DENVER (Sept. 25, 2019) - Think it's too early to begin thinking about Thanksgiving or Christmas? Think again: A recent analysis of AAA Travel's flight booking data from the last three years found that Sept. 25 marks the start of the best booking window for air travel around both the Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays.
"Holiday travelers typically want two things: A convenient, workable flight at a good price," said AAA Colorado spokesman Skyler McKinley. "The best deals and availability are opening up right now. While procrastinating travelers may be able to find last-minute deals on flights close to the holidays, those seats are effectively 'leftovers,' and availability will be very limited."
Most travelers book their flights for Thanksgiving between Sept. 25 and Oct. 27, which is 28 to 60 days prior to the holiday and offers relatively good prices ($491 for a round-trip flight, on average). Surprisingly, AAA's analysis also found that travelers can find some of the best pricing ($482 for a round-trip flight, on average) just seven to 13 days before the holiday, Nov. 11-17 this year. Limited availability, however, makes those deals exceedingly hard to find unless travelers are willing to settle for less desirable flight times or long layovers.
Flying the Monday of Thanksgiving week is the best option for travelers to arrive at their destinations before the holiday, with the lowest average pre-holiday ticket price ($486) on a lighter travel day. For travelers more concerned about crowds than cost, the Sunday before the holiday has the highest average price per ticket ($564), and is the consistently lightest travel day. Travelers can save significantly by traveling on Thanksgiving Day, which has the lowest average price per ticket ($454). Tuesday and Wednesday are consistently pricey, and both leave travelers stuck with the biggest crowds.
While many travelers naturally focus on Thanksgiving first, now's also the best time to look at Christmas. AAA found that 61-90 days before the holiday (between Sept. 26 and Oct. 25) is the sweet spot for Christmas flight bookings, with prices lower on average ($551) than later bookings. Still, most travelers book between 28 and 60 days before Christmas — between Oct. 26 and Nov. 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 will 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 Dec. 21, $639 on Dec. 22 (the busiest air travel day of Christmas week), and $603 on Dec. 23. Christmas Eve, meanwhile, remains the best day to travel for those who can swing it. 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. Dec. 26 has the highest average ticket price of the week at $692. All told, December 22 is the busiest air travel day around Christmas, and those travelers pay the second-highest average ticket price of the week: $639.
"Last year, AAA projected that 54.3 million Americans would travel for Thanksgiving, and that a record-breaking 112.5 million would travel during the longer year-end holiday season," McKinley said. "If those trends hold again this year, travelers are in for crowded airports and potentially long wait times. Pack your patience, plan ahead, and give yourself plenty of time at the airport."
Tips for Travelers
When it comes to getting the best value for your travel this holiday season, AAA recommends:
• Start researching holiday travel options now and book flights by Oct. 27
• Work with a travel agent. They can take the guesswork out of researching and evaluating available options – saving time, hassle, and headaches.
• Consider purchasing travel insurance for your flight to protect your trip from life's unexpected surprises that can throw a wrench in your plans.
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, Dec. 19-26 was analyzed, regardless of what day of the week Christmas fell on that year.
About AAA Colorado
More than 695,000 members strong, AAA Colorado is the state's greatest advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. As North America's largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 60 million members with travel, insurance, financial, and automotive-related services — as well as member-exclusive savings. A not-for-profit organization since its founding in 1923, AAA Colorado has been recognized as the number one Colorado company its size for its advocacy, community engagement, and corporate social responsibility efforts – and is a proud member of Points of Light's "The Civic 50 Colorado," recognizing the 50 most community-minded companies in the state. For more information, visit AAA.com.