- The number of travelers flying this holiday season is expected to meet, if not surpass, 2019 levels.
- But flying over Thanksgiving and Christmas will likely be less chaotic than this summer, experts say.
- These are the best and worst days to fly, and when you should buy your tickets (right now).
Flying this summer was enough to scar even the most experienced traveler, leaving many of us wondering if the industry will be able to clean up its act in time for the quickly approaching holiday season.
The number of travelers flying during the winter holidays is expected to meet — if not surpassed — pre-pandemic levels, with more than half of Americans planning to travel over Thanksgiving or Christmas, according to Hopper data. Searches for holiday travel are up 25% for Thanksgiving and 35% for Christmas through New Year versus last year, Expedia told Insider.
Despite robust demand, most experts agree that flying during the six-week period between Thanksgiving and Christmas will likely be less chaotic than the summer for two main reasons:
- The summer’s surge in travel was prolonged over a three-month period, while holiday surges are more date-specific, making them easier for airlines to prepare for.
- Most major airlines have announced winter schedule cuts to prevent staff from being spread too thin.
Cancellations among US carriers have already seen a major improvement, dropping from 2.2% of total flights over the Memorial Day weekend to just 0.6% over Labor Day weekend, according to FlightAware data.
But travelers should still prepare for possible flight disruptions, especially on notoriously busy travel days, Phil Dengler, founder of the travel research website The Vacationers, warns.
“There are still going to be cancellations and delays because demand is just higher than the supply right now,” he told Insider. “So it’s still going to be an issue but it’s definitely going to be better than it was in the summer.”
How to avoid flight disruptions over Thanksgiving and Christmas
Dengler recommends booking an early morning, non-stop flight directly with the airline to minimize your chances of disruptions.
Packing a carry-on instead of checking luggage can also cut down on the time you spend in line at the airport and decrease the odds of losing your bag, he said.
On the booking side of things, the ideal time to nab cheap holiday flight tickets was during the summer months, but if you book now you can still get a reasonably priced fare, Dengler said. To avoid being overcharged, he recommends booking your Thanksgiving flights by Halloween and your Christmas flights by Thanksgiving — at the latest.
“Thanksgiving travel airfares are already 22% higher than in 2019 and 43% higher than last year,” he said, adding that the best non-stop flights will be “sold out within the next few weeks.”
Fall and winter flight options are more limited this year than in previous years, as major airlines have announced substantial cuts to their schedules in order to prevent understaffing.
“With fewer routes to certain cities, you’re potentially going to have to book a layover flight when in the past you may not have had to, which is, unfortunately, going to increase your chance of a delay or cancellation,” Dengler explained .
The best and worst days to fly
Regardless of a global pandemic or industry-wide meltdown, there are some days that have consistently proven to be an awful time to fly.
Since Thanksgiving always falls on a Thursday every year, the busiest travel days are typically the Wednesday before and the Sunday after. Fares are the cheapest for flights on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, Dengler said.
For less expensive flights and less hassle, Dengler recommends flying out on Sunday, November 20; Monday, November 21; Tuesday, November 2; or Thursday, November 24 and flying home on Friday, November 25; Monday, November 28; or Tuesday, November 29.
The busiest days for Christmas are harder to predict since it doesn’t always fall on the same day of the week.
For 2022, Dengler expects the busiest travel days to be Thursday, December 22; Friday, December 23; Monday, December 26; and Tuesday, December 27. Better days to fly out are Sunday, December 18; Monday, December 19; or Tuesday, December 20, he said. Christmas eve and Christmas day flights are generally cheaper.
To avoid the post-holiday rush, Dengler recommends flying home on Wednesday, December 28, or Thursday, December 29.
Even if you follow all the tips and hacks out there, travelers should always have a plan-B if everything goes wrong, Audrey Hendley, President of American Express Travel, told Insider.
“Be prepared and have an open mind,” she said. “Stuff happens. Sometimes weather comes and your flights change. Sometimes everything doesn’t go your way.”