Best & Worst Days to Fly for the Holidays — Thanksgiving & Christmas 2022
As seen in our recent survey, millions of Americans will travel for the 2021 holiday season. With a limited number of flights available for Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is important to book as early as possible for the best prices. Additionally, some days are much better than others to fly when it comes to crowds and cost. This guide will detail how far in advance to book holiday travel as well as the best and worst days to fly. For the rest of the year, see our Best & Worst Days to Fly guide.
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Ideally, you book your Thanksgiving and Christmas flights many months in advance. As a rule, we suggest booking domestic flights at least one to three months in advance. For international flights, you should book at least two to seven months in advance, but the earlier the better.
Both domestic and international flights open for bookings around 11 months in advance (for revenue and award tickets), but be careful booking domestic too early. International flights tend to be cheaper closer to the opening of the booking window. Domestic flights are more expensive when released and tend to drop in price after a few months. For that reason, you should aim to book international flights earlier than domestic, and that is especially true for the holidays.
Here are our recommended cutoff dates for booking Thanksgiving and December flights.
Thanksgiving (book before Halloween)
I recommend booking your Thanksgiving flight by late August or early September for the best price. Book international flights even earlier. If you wait too long, you should aim to book by Halloween at the latest. While it is possible to get a decent deal after Halloween, your chances dramatically decrease. Your odds of finding a desirable flight time also go down when booking after Halloween.
Christmas (book before Thanksgiving)
The best deals on Christmas flights are in late August and early September. At the latest, you should book by Thanksgiving, but the earlier the better. If it is December and you still do not have a flight, you should expect to pay a premium. Additionally, you will likely only have undesirable flight times to choose from.
Best & Worst Days to Fly
Being on a Thursday every year, the best and worst days to fly for Thanksgiving are predictable. Christmas is a little more difficult since it does not fall on the same day of the week every year. Here are the days you should target and the days you should avoid this holiday season.
Thanksgiving (best departure and return dates)
Our latest Thanksgiving Travel Survey says 10.52% of American adults will fly to attend a gathering on Turkey Day this year. That means tens of millions of people will be fighting over seats for a very limited number of flights.
Best Thanksgiving Travel Dates for 2021
|Best Departure Dates||Best Return Dates|
|Monday, November 22||Saturday, November 27|
|Tuesday, November 23||Monday, November 29|
|Thursday, November 25||Tuesday, November 30|
As the table shows, you want to depart early during the week. If possible, Sunday is even better than Monday. While not ideal, Thanksgiving Day is a great day to fly. Black Friday is also a good day to fly if you can swing a shorter trip.
Most people return home the Sunday after Thanksgiving, so aim to fly back on the Saturday or Monday after Turkey Day. If you can wait another day, Tuesday is even better than Monday.
Worst Thanksgiving Travel Dates for 2021
|Worst Departure Dates||Worst Return Dates|
|Wednesday, November 24||Sunday, November 28|
Avoid the Wednesday before Thanksgiving at all costs. It is one of the most popular days of the year to fly, and it is expensive. Additionally, airports are always packed, so it is an extra stressful experience.
Avoid the Sunday after Thanksgiving for your return flight. Most people fly that day to get home before the workweek. I recommend flying home on Saturday or Monday or Tuesday.
Christmas (best departure and return dates)
Our latest Christmas Travel Survey says 12.72% of American adults will fly to attend a gathering this year. Since Christmas falls on a different day every year, the best days to fly change. Other things such as school and business closures affect the dates too. Christmas can fall on a weekend (as it will in 2021), which further complicates things. Generally, the worst day to fly for Christmas is December 23, but that is not a hard rule. If you decide to fly, we recommend taking a look at our favorite Airline Travel Credit Cards for high bonuses, free miles, lounge benefits and much more. You an also see our favorite Hotel Travel Credit Cards for the opportunity to earn free rooms, high sign-up bonuses, and more.
Best Christmas Travel Dates for 2021
|Best Departure Dates||Best Return Dates|
|Monday, December 20||Tuesday, December 28|
|Tuesday, December 21||Wednesday, December 29|
The earlier you depart during Christmas week the better. Americans will look to get a few days of work in early during the week before flying out. If possible, fly on Monday, December 20, or Tuesday, December 21. Sunday, December 19 is even better.
Like Thanksgiving, many people will fly home on the Sunday after Christmas, so avoid the 26th. Monday, December 27 will be another popular travel day, so try and wait until Tuesday or Wednesday.
Worst Christmas Travel Dates for 2021
|Worst Departure Dates||Worst Return Dates|
|Wednesday, December 22||Sunday, December 26|
|Thursday, December 23||Monday, December 27|
The two days before Christmas Eve, the 22nd and 23rd, are going to be busy travel days. I recommend avoiding them and departing earlier in the week.
Avoid the Sunday and Monday after Christmas for your return flight. Despite being the day after Christmas, many people will fly home on Sunday so they can return to work on Monday.
Travel is Recovering for the 2021 Holiday Season
After a quiet 2020 holiday travel season, things are finally starting to get back to normal. On most days, more than one million more travelers are going through TSA checkpoints compared to the same day as last year. While the numbers are still down from two years ago, the vaccines and other measures have given Americans the confidence to fly again.
Other Tips For Scoring a Cheap Holiday Flight Deal
Check out our guide to finding and booking cheap flights for additional tips. A few of the major tips may not be applicable with holiday travel (being very flexible on dates and destinations), but other guidelines can help. Here are a few of them.
- Do: Start With Google Flights
- Do: Be Open to Different Nearby Departure and Arrival Airports
- Do: Be Open to All Airlines
- Do: Be Open to Flights With Connections
- Don’t: Waste Your Time Clearing Cookies
- Don’t: Waste Your Time Browsing in Incognito
Additionally, our best websites to book cheap flights guide can help you save even more money.
The best days to fly for Thanksgiving are the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday before Turkey Day.
The worst day to fly for Thanksgiving is the Wednesday before.
The best days are the Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday after Turkey Day. The worst day is the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
It is, but it is not ideal for most people.
It is, but most popular do not want to fly home on the day after Thanksgiving.
Book by the middle of September for the best price. Book even earlier for international flights. Do not wait until after Halloween to book.
It depends since Christmas is on a different day each year. Shoot for at least a few days before Christmas Eve.
Avoid the day before Christmas Eve.
It depends since Christmas is on a different day each year. Shoot for at least a few days after Christmas.
Book by the middle of September for the best price. Book even earlier for international flights. Do not wait until after Thanksgiving to book.
The Vacationer’s Final Thoughts
Ideally, you have already booked your 2021 holiday travel. If you have not done so already, there is still time to get a deal, but you need to move quickly. Shoot for the dates discussed in the article and avoid the bad ones. After the holidays are over, follow our best days of the week to fly guide.
Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.
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