There are a limited number of flights available for Thanksgiving and Christmas, so it is important to book as early as possible for the best prices (ideally you have already booked your holiday travel). Additionally, some days are much better than others to fly when it comes to crowds and cost.
How Far in Advance to Book Holiday Travel
Ideally, you should 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 eight months in advance, but the earlier the better. For the holidays, you should book even earlier if possible to guarantee a desirable route, time, seat, and price.
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. If possible, book in June or July. 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 usually available through late August and early September. If possible, book even earlier in June or July. 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 with the potential for one or more connections.
Best & Worst Days to Fly for the Holidays
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)
For Thanksgiving last year 10.52% of American adults intended to fly to attend a gathering on Turkey Day. That means tens of millions of people fought over seats for a very limited number of flights. For 2022, we expect that number to be even higher.
Best Thanksgiving Travel Dates for 2022
BEST DEPARTURE DATESBEST RETURN DATESMonday, November 21Friday, November 25 (Black Friday)Tuesday, November 22Monday, November 28Thursday, November 24 (Thanksgiving Day)Tuesday, November 29
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 Friday 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 DATESWORST RETURN DATESWednesday, November 23Sunday, November 27
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 Friday or Monday or Tuesday.
Christmas (best departure and return dates)
Our Christmas Travel Survey last year showed 12.72% of American adults intended to fly to attend a gathering. 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 2022), which further complicates things. Generally, the worst day to fly for Christmas is December 23, but that is not a hard rule.
Best Christmas Travel Dates for 2022
BEST DEPARTURE DATESBEST RETURN DATESSunday, December 18Wednesday, December 28Monday, December 19Thursday, December 29Tuesday, December 20Friday, December 30Christmas Eve or Christmas Day
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 19, or Tuesday, December 20. Sunday, December 18 is even better if you can swing it. Flying on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day is ideal for cheaper prices and fewer crowds too, but you may not want to travel on a holiday.
Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, so many people will fly home the day after. Monday, December 26 and Tuesday, December 27 will be popular travel days, so try and wait until Wednesday or Thursday.
Worst Christmas Travel Dates for 2022
WORST DEPARTURE DATESWORST RETURN DATESThursday, December 22Monday, December 26Friday, December 23Tuesday, 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 if you can.
Avoid the Monday and Tuesday after Christmas for your return flight. Despite being the day after Christmas, many people will fly home on Monday or Tuesday so they can return to work on Tuesday or Wednesday.Additional Tips:
Use Google Flights and Consider Multiple Nearby Airports for The Cheapest PriceI recommend Google Flights to find the cheapest holiday flight deals. It offers powerful filtering options to find the cheapest prices from a variety of airlines and airports. Consider flying from a nearby airport if it is cheaper than your home airport. Also, consider flying into an airport a little further from your destination that may be within driving distance. Flexibility is the key to finding a great flight deal, and that is especially true for holiday travel.
Book Direct to Avoid Hassle if Your Flight is Canceled or DelayedOnline Travel Agencies (OTAs) such as Expedia and Priceline sometimes have better flight prices than booking directly with the airline, but there is a drawback. When you book with an OTA, you contact them in the event you need to change or cancel your itinerary. While that is not usually a problem, it is if your flight is delayed or canceled. Every second counts, so I recommend booking directly so you can avoid the middleman and talk directly to the airline to inquire about rebooking a new flight or canceling your existing itinerary.
Good luck and safe travels!
Phil Dengler, is a co-owner of The Vacationer, which is a resource for all things travel. Click here to read the full post.