Best and Worst Days To Fly This Christmas Holiday Season


Laurie Baratti

Christmas is just around the corner and, yes, you probably should have booked your flights months ago, but, hey, you might be among those who are still weighing their options. Or, perhaps you’re one of those who’ve already booked their tickets and simply want to know what to expect upon reaching the airport. Either way, it’d be good to know when might be the best and worst days to fly this Christmas season.

According to online travel guide The Vacationer’s 2023 Christmas Travel Survey, 50 percent of American adults plan to travel to a vacation destination or holiday gathering for Christmas this year, whereas only 43 percent did the same last year. And, according to comparison site Hopper’s 2023 Holiday Travel Outlook, 59 percent of those travelers aim to spend time with friends and family, while 33 percent are planning a vacation on their Christmas breaks. 

Despite the forecast for increased travel volumes, this holiday season might offer some relief from the maddening crowds and potential flight disruptions for a few reasons. With Hanukkah starting earlier, the period before Christmas could be less congested. Also, the weeklong celebration of Kwanzaa from December 26 to January 1 might influence travel patterns.

To come up with its best and worst travel date predictions, The Vacationer sampled hundreds of flight prices around the holiday at numerous departure and arrival cities around the U.S. To inform its own assessment, Hopper both surveyed its users, and analyzed its proprietary search and booking data. Meanwhile, finance company NerdWallet also conducted its own analysis based on the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) checkpoint data for the past four Christmas seasons, from 2019 to 2022.

Traveler with Santa hat in airport

Traveler with a Santa hat on his feet in an airport. (Photo via iStock / . Plus / Manuel Faba Ortega)

Whatever their respective methodologies, these sources largely agree about which are the best and worst days to fly when it comes to traveling for the Christmas holiday. And, as is often the case, booking morning flights is advisable, not only to save money, but also to minimize the risk of flight cancellations and delays.

Best Christmas Travel Dates

All of the studies recommend traveling on Christmas Eve or even Christmas Day if you are willing and able to either postpone or push forward your celebrations. Since few people want to fly on the holiday itself, airlines tend to have a high number of seats available and offer them at cheaper prices than on peak days. For travelers who depart on Christmas Day, airfares average 26 percent less than peak prices, providing a considerable cost-saving opportunity. Although, in reality, not too many people are keen on going that route.

The forecasts say optimal departure dates for Christmas 2023 will be Monday, December 18, and Tuesday, December 19. For those who have the time off work and prefer an even quieter travel experience, departing on Sunday, December 17, is also a solid choice. Return travel during the week following Christmas is likely to be best undertaken on Thursday, December 28, or Friday, December 29.

Because Christmas falls on a Monday this year and, the Sunday after Christmas (December 31) should be less busy than usual, making it another smart choice for Americans looking to avoid crowds and perhaps save a few bucks. After all, many folks won’t want to forego their New Year’s Eve festivities to sit on a plane.

Luggage under the Christmas tree

Luggage under the Christmas tree. (photo via Goldenberg / iStock / . Plus)

Worst Christmas Travel Dates

If historical TSA data patterns hold, NerdWallet predicts that Friday, December 22, will be one of the top three busiest days, as will Saturday, December 23. In terms of return trips, the days immediately following Christmas, especially Wednesday, December 27, and Saturday, December 30, consistently draw substantial crowds from year to year.

However, The Vacationer anticipates that Thursday, December 21 will also be among the most jam-packed for pre-Christmas departures, and Tuesday, December 26 and Wednesday, December 27 will be the most popular days for return travel. Obviously, the nearer the end of the month, there will some overlap with the masses who are traveling for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Ultimately, the key to a stress-free holiday journey lies in strategic planning and flexibility. Whether that means selecting optimal travel dates or just avoiding peak days, or even considering alternative celebrations, travelers can make the most of the festive season while enjoying smoother and more budget-friendly travel experiences.

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