Best & Worst Days to Fly for the Holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, & New Year’s 2023

Best travel date predictions for the 2023 Holiday Travel Season, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

Nearly 43% of American adults planned to travel to a vacation destination or holiday gathering last year. With travel fully recovered, the 2023 holiday season is looking to be extremely busy, with many people flying for the first time in a few years.

There are a limited number of flights available for Christmas and New Year’s, 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.

Here are our recommended cutoff dates for booking Thanksgiving and December flights for the 2023 holiday season.

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. Here is a ranking of our recommended times.

  • June, July, and August – Best combination of inventory and cheap prices
  • Early through Middle September – Still a great time
  • Early October – Deals are still available but desirable flights may be limited
  • Halloween – Book Thanksgiving flights by Halloween at the latest
  • November – High prices and poor flights (connections, middle seats, bad times, etc.)

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. Here is a ranking of our recommended booking times.

  • June, July, and August – Best combination of inventory and cheap prices
  • Early through Middle September – Still a great time
  • Early October – Google’s recommendation. Cheap prices but lower inventory
  • Thanksgiving – Book Christmas flights by Thanksgiving at the latest
  • December – High prices and poor flights (connections, middle seats, bad times, etc.)

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. To come up with our best and worst dates forecast, we sampled hundreds of flight prices around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Our sample included numerous departure and arrival cities around the United States.

Thanksgiving (best departure and return dates)

More than 43% of American adults intended to travel to a vacation destination or holiday gathering last year. That means tens of millions of people fought over seats for a very limited number of flights.

Best Thanksgiving Travel Dates for 2023

BEST DEPARTURE DATES:

Monday, November 20, Tuesday, November 21 & Thursday, November 23 (Thanksgiving Day)

BEST RETURN DATES:

Friday, November 24 (Black Friday), Monday, November 27 & Tuesday, November 28

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 2023

WORST DEPARTURE DATE: Wednesday, November 22

WORST RETURN DATE: Sunday, November 26

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)

Nearly 43% of American adults plan to travel to a vacation destination or 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 did 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 2023

BEST DEPARTURE DATES:

Monday, December 18, Tuesday December 19, Wednesday December 20 & Christmas Eve or Christmas Day

BEST RETURN DATES:

Thursday, December 28 & Friday, December 29

The earlier you depart the week before Christmas the better. Americans will look to get a few days of work in before flying out. If possible, fly on Monday, December 18, or Tuesday, December 19. Sunday, December 17 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 Monday this year, so many people will fly home the day after. Tuesday, December 26 and Wednesday, December 27 will be popular travel days, so try and wait until Thursday or Friday.

Worst Christmas Travel Dates for 2023

WORST DEPARTURE DATES:

Thursday, December 21, Friday, December 22 & Saturday, December 23

WORST RETURN DATES:

Tuesday, December 26 & Wednesday, December 27

The three days before Christmas Eve, the 21st, 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 Tuesday and Wednesday after Christmas for your return flight. Despite being the day after Christmas, many people will fly home on Tuesday or Wednesday so they can return to work for a few days before the weekend.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day Travel Tips

We recommend flying out for New Year’s on Thursday, December 28 or Friday, December 29. Fly home on Wednesday January 3 or Thursday January 4. While it is not ideal, flying out on the night of New Year’s Eve or the morning of New Year’s Day is generally cheap. Unfortunately, you will probably miss New Year’s Eve activities if you opt for an evening flight. An early New Year’s Day flight is not optimal either unless you can go bed very early on New Year’s Eve.

Avoid flying out on Saturday, December 30 and the morning of December 31.

Average Holiday Flight Prices for 2023 – Thanksgiving ($300) and Christmas ($400)

With September here, flight prices are increasing for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Expect to pay on average $300 for a roundtrip Flight for Thanksgiving. For Christmas, expect to pay on average $400 for a roundtrip flight.

Those prices will vary by your destination and dates of travel, so we recommend doing your homework before booking. If possible, travel on our recommended days and avoid the worst days.

We’ve found many domestic Thanksgiving and Christmas flights for under $200. We’ve also found various international Thanksgiving and Christmas flights for under $500.

Flexibility is the key to finding the absolute cheapest holiday flights. Use the Google Flights Explore map to find the best flight deals from your home airport or city around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Travel is Recovering for the 2023 Holiday Season

On most days, hundreds of thousands more travelers are going through TSA checkpoints compared to the same day as last year. For 2023, we expect holiday travel numbers to resemble or surpass 2019, which is the most recent pre-pandemic year.

Other Tips For Scoring a Cheap Holiday Flight Deal

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

For more travel tips visit the Vacationer.

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