By: Jenifer Moore, AAA
(Sept. 19, 2019)– The much-anticipated Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays may still be months away, but the best time to book flights for these busy travel weeks is quickly approaching. In fact, a recent analysis of AAA Travel’s flight booking data from the last three years reveals that Sept. 25 marks the start of the best booking window for air travel around both the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
“Though holiday shopping may be far from your mind, holiday travelers should make their plans now and begin booking their flights for Thanksgiving and Christmas as early as Wednesday, Sept. 25, for the best deals and availability,” said Jenifer Moore, AAA spokesperson.
“Procrastinating travelers may be able to find last-minute deals on flights close to the holidays, as airlines look to fill their last few remaining seats, but flight availability for these peak travel weeks will be very limited by that time.”
Most travelers book their flights for Thanksgiving between Sept. 25 and Oct. 27, which is 28 to 60 days prior to the holiday and offers relatively good prices ($491 on average). While AAA’s analysis found that travelers can find some of the very best pricing ($482 on average) by waiting until seven to 13 days before the holiday (Nov. 11-17), limited availability will make seats hard to come by for those willing to gamble on getting the greatest discounts.
For those lucky enough to find seats available, flying Monday of Thanksgiving week is the best option for travelers who want to arrive at their destinations before the holiday. It has the lowest average ticket price ($486) prior to the holiday and is a lighter travel day than later in the week. For travelers more concerned about crowds than cost, the Sunday before the holiday has the highest average price per ticket ($564), but it is consistently the lightest travel day. Those who don’t need to arrive prior to the holiday itself can save by traveling on Thanksgiving Day, which has the lowest average price per ticket ($454).
Many travelers are focused on Thanksgiving, but it would be wise to consider Christmas plans now as well. AAA found that 61 to 90 days prior to the holiday (between Sept. 26 and Oct. 25) is the sweet spot for Christmas flight bookings, with prices lower on average ($551) than more advanced bookings. However, most travelers wait to book between 28 and 60 days before Christmas — Oct. 26 and Nov. 27 — and still, get a relatively good price ($561 on average). Like Thanksgiving, last-minute Christmas travelers can find the overall best pricing ($488 on average) seven to 13 days before the holiday week, but flight availability is likely to be very limited by that time.
Regardless of what day of the week Christmas falls on, most travelers depart two to four days prior to the holiday. These travelers, on average, pay ticket prices of $593 on Dec. 21, $639 on Dec. 22 (the busiest air travel day of Christmas week), and $603 on Dec. 23. However, AAA found that Christmas Eve is the best day to travel if flights are available. It consistently has the lowest average price per ticket ($527) and is the lightest travel day of the week. Travelers opting to travel after the Christmas holiday and leading up to New Year’s will pay a premium to do so. Dec. 26 has the highest average ticket price of the week at $692.
“Last year, AAA projected that 54.3 million Americans would travel over the Thanksgiving holiday and a record-breaking 112.5 million during the longer year-end holiday season,” continued Moore. “If those trends hold again this year, travelers are in for crowded airports and, possibly, longer wait times. Pack your patience and plan ahead, giving yourself plenty of time at the airport to maintain that holiday cheer.”
When it comes to getting the best value and availability for your travel this holiday season, AAA recommends:
- Start researching holiday travel options now and book flights by Oct. 27.
- Consult a knowledgeable travel agent; they can take the guesswork out of researching and evaluating the many available options, saving time, the hassle and the headache.
- Consider purchasing travel insurance for your flight to protect your trip from life’s unexpected surprises that can throw a wrench in your plans.
AAA analyzed its member flight booking data for travel within the continental United States, from 2016-2018 to determine the best and most popular times to book air travel for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, as well as the prices travelers pay during various advance booking windows. An unweighted, three-year average ticket price was used for this analysis. Since Thanksgiving always falls on a Thursday, the full week of Thanksgiving (Sunday through Saturday) was analyzed. For the Christmas holiday, Dec. 19-26 was analyzed, regardless of what day of the week Christmas fell on that year.