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When is the best time to fly for Christmas and New Year’s?

Fly early and stay late to avoid the worst of the delays and travel woes

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View of the sky outside a plane window.

Jerry Zhang, Unsplash

The best time to book plane tickets for Christmas and New Year’s would have been in the summer. If you haven’t already booked them, the next best time is now.

According to The Vacationer, 50.44% of Americans — or 131 million people — will travel for the holidays this year. Between a high volume of travelers and limited flights (and the usual delays and cancellations), travel will be chaotic and of course, expensive.

Here’s how to book holiday travel.

Use Google Flights

As previously stated, the best time to purchase flights has passed, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be paying extra for having missed the deadline. It’s still possible to find discounted, or average-priced, tickets.

The most efficient way to search is through Google Flights, which will show users the least expensive flights for each day on the calendar widget, as the Deseret News previously reported.

According to The Vacationer, the average price for a domestic plane ticket is $400. Travelers may be able to find less expensive tickets, though they can increase their odds by being flexible on departure dates. Opting to fly out of a different airport can also help lower costs.

Once you select a flight, make sure to purchase your ticket directly from the airline, not a travel agency.

When is the best time to fly?

Through analyzing domestic flight prices across the holiday season, The Vacationer determined that the following dates are the best to depart:

  • Monday, December 18
  • Tuesday December 19
  • Wednesday December. 20
  • Christmas Eve
  • Christmas Day

The following were found to be the best days for return flights:

  • Thursday, December 28
  • Friday, December 29

When is the worst time to fly?

The worst dates to depart, December 21 and 22, are also projected to be the busiest, USA Today reports.

Due to Christmas falling on a Monday, The Vacationer predicts that travelers will be more likely to return within the next two days, making them the worst return dates. Crowded airports and higher prices may push other travelers to delay their return.

According to USA Today, on the busiest days travelers can expect to see 3.7 million people in airports.

What are the busiest airports during Christmas and New Years?

USA Today reports that the busiest airports will be:

  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
  • Denver International Airport
  • Dallas Fort-Worth International Airport
  • Los Angeles International Airport
  • Orlando International Airport

Hopper reports that people looking to get rental cars should plan extra early if their arrival places them at major airports in Chicago, Orlando, Miami and Las Vegas.

How to prepare for your holiday flight

Besides booking flights as early as possible, there are a few other ways to ensure travel days are as smooth as possible.

  • Arrive early at the airport to remedy any problems that arise and get to your gate before boarding begins.
  • If you can help it, don’t check a bag. According to CNN, this is when bags are more likely to get lost. This is especially problematic when you’re bringing gifts with you.
  • Fly early in the day. Loulu Lima, founder of the Texas-based travel agency Book Here Give Here, told USA Today, “The chances of having delays and things like that are going to happen later in the day than they are earlier, but the earlier flights are going to be the more expensive ones.” Of course, if you’re on a budget, you may choose to risk a delay in favor of a cheaper ticket.

This late in the game, every option will likely have its tradeoffs, but it’s worth evaluating the pros and cons to give yourself a chance at having a smooth travel day.