WASHINGTON, D. C. (Thursday, September 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 September 25 marks the start of the best booking window for air travel around both the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
“Holiday travelers should make their plans now and begin booking their flights for Thanksgiving and Christmas as early as Wednesday, September 25 for the best deals and availability,” said Paula Twidale, vice president, AAA Travel. “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.”
“The Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year’s holiday periods are among the busiest long-distance travel periods of the year,” explains the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Both holiday travel periods are noted for crowded airports. That’s true at the region’s Big Three; the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, the Dulles International Airport, and over at the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. The statistics bear this out.
“Now is the best time to book your holiday flights. It might seem a tad counterintuitive, but if you are a budget conscious traveler and not beholden to the calendar, it will be cheaper to book your holiday flight on the eve of the holiday or on the actual holiday itself,” said Jazmine Coleman, AAA Travel, AAA Mid-Atlantic. “A case is point is Thanksgiving Day, which has the cheapest ticket prices of the holiday week. In contrast, if you have travel plans for Christmas, the best day to travel is Christmas Eve. It consistently has the lowest average price per ticket and, as an extra bonus, it is the lightest travel day of the holiday week.”
During 2018, AAA projected that 4.3 million Americans, including 95,500 Washington area residents, would fly to their Thanksgiving Day holiday destinations. It represented a 5.4% increase in the number of airline passengers during the busy Thanksgiving Day holiday travel period over 2017. During 2018 most travelers booked their Christmas flights between October 26 and November 27, paying an average ticket price of $561 roundtrip, explains AAA Travel. During the Christmas and New Year holiday period a year ago, some 6.7 million people traveled by air, the highest level since in 15 years, and it represented a 4.2% increase in the number of airline passengers for the year-end holidays over 2017.
Most travelers book their flights for Thanksgiving between September 25 and October 27, which is 28 to 60 days prior to the holiday and offers relatively good prices ($491 on average). Surprisingly, AAA’s analysis found that travelers can find some of the best pricing ($482 on average) seven to 13 days before the holiday, November 11-17 this year. However, limited availability will make seats hard to come by at these discounted rates.
Flying Monday of Thanksgiving week is the best option for travelers 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) and it is consistently the lightest travel day. Travelers can save by traveling on Thanksgiving Day, which has the lowest average price per ticket ($454).
While many travelers are focused on Thanksgiving, they would be wise to consider Christmas now as well. AAA found that 61 to 90 days prior to the holiday (between September 26 and October 25) is the sweet spot for Christmas flight bookings, with prices lower on average ($551) than more advanced bookings. However, most travelers book between 28 and 60 days before Christmas — between October 26 and November 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 what day of the week Christmas falls on (a Wednesday this year), most travelers depart two to four days prior to the holiday. These travelers, on average, pay ticket prices of $593 on December 21, $639 on Dec. 22 (the busiest air travel day of Christmas week), and $603 on December 23. However, AAA found that Christmas Eve is the best day to travel. It consistently has the lowest average price per ticket ($527) and is the lightest travel day of the week. Many travelers opt to travel after the Christmas holiday leading up to New Year’s, and they pay a premium to do so. December 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 Twidale. “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 for your travel this holiday season, AAA recommends:
For more information, visit AAA.com/Travel.
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, December 19-26 was analyzed, regardless of what day of the week Christmas fell on that year.
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