You’ve waited to buy plane or train tickets for Thanksgiving in hopes the prices would drop, or you’re starting to firm up travel plans for Christmas.
Are you too late to find palatable fares?
Not necessarily, but now is the time to buy, according to Google.
Over the last several years, analysts at the popular search engine have scrutinized data from Google Flights to determine when is the best time to purchase plane tickets for holiday travel.
Like last year, data for 2023 shows that flights for domestic Thanksgiving travel are typically cheapest 36-74 days before departure and hit their lowest point 52 days out. This year, that was Oct. 2.
With just four weeks until Thanksgiving, that means you shouldn’t hold out much longer. And if you’re trying to be budget-conscious, forget flying nonstop.
Flying for Thanksgiving
According to Delaware Online/The News Journal’s analysis of cost trends from the Philadelphia airport to the most popular U.S. Thanksgiving destinations (New York, Seattle, Orlando, Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.), prices are on the higher end of “typical” or have already reached what Google deems “high.”
As is typical with travel at any time of the year, traveling on weekdays is usually cheaper than flying on weekends or even Fridays (in part, this is because business travelers often book travel home on Fridays).
But for the Thanksgiving holiday, flight prices on Wednesday, Nov. 22 − typically one of the busiest travel days of the year − are also some of the highest.
The cheapest day to fly to almost all of the popular U.S. destinations, according to Google Flights, is on Thanksgiving, with a return the following Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. The most expensive day to fly is Saturday, Nov. 25.
For nearby destinations such as New York City or Washington, D.C., it’s likely easier to take the train or drive. While AAA hasn’t yet released its 2023 Thanksgiving travel forecast − that’s usually published about a week before the holiday − plane tickets to D.C. are currently in the “high” range.
2022 TRAVEL FORECAST:Traveling this Thanksgiving? Better prepare as travel will be close to pre-pandemic levels
Regarding the Big Apple, neither of the city’s airports is in Manhattan (the city’s most popular borough for tourists), meaning visitors would have to travel by taxi/Uber or public transport to get into the city.
What about Christmas flights?
Unlike in past years, when Google Flights analysts determined the cheapest time to book Christmas travel was 22 days before departure, this year’s data shows that the lowest fares were in early October, or about 71 days before departure.
Also differing from last year, where prices generally dropped between 20 and 88 days before departure, the typical low price for mid-December travel in 2023 is 54-78 days before takeoff, according to Google.
With less than 60 days until Christmas, the time to purchase airline tickets is now.
Much like with Thanksgiving, one of the cheapest days to fly is on Christmas, the 25th. But Google Flights also shows cheaper fares on Sunday, Dec. 24 and Wednesday, Dec. 20.
While flights to Washington, D.C. − another top U.S. Christmas destination − are a little on the pricier side (though less than for Thanksgiving), flights to New York City are currently in Google’s “low” range. Unlike most other destinations, however, where it’s cheaper to fly on Sunday, Dec. 24, Google Flights show that’s the most expensive day to fly from Philadelphia to New York.
Don’t want to fly? Try Amtrak.
For those who don’t want to fly but also prefer not to drive, Amtrak still has plenty of options for generally reasonable prices, especially if you’re willing to travel early in the morning or late at night.
The biggest concern with Amtrak is space − already, trains at desirable times such as mid-morning or early afternoon have reached 80% and 90% full. As with air travel, tickets for Wednesday, Nov. 21 are booking up fast and even the cheapest seats are more expensive than on other days.
Traveling via Amtrak on Thanksgiving Day appears to be the cheapest option, with coach tickets from Wilmington to Boston’s South Station as low as $33. Given that trip is longer than, say, to New York, however, earlier trains − which would get you to your destination by early afternoon − are pricier.
According to an analysis of the Amtrak site by Delaware Online/The News Journal, there doesn’t appear to be much of a difference in fares if you leave from Wilmington or Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. That said, travelers have more options from Philadelphia, given Amtrak’s Keystone Service trains (New York to Harrisburg) stop in Pennsylvania’s largest city.
As for Amtrak travel around Christmas, there are numerous options available, with some late-night fares from Wilmington to New York City or Wilmington to Washington, D.C. as low as $9.
CHEAP TRAIN TICKETS:OK with traveling at night? Getting to NYC, Washington just got cheaper on Amtrak
These prices are part of the rail company’s “night owl fares,” which were rolled out earlier this year. They include certain off-peak-hour trains traveling between Washington and New York, with multiple routes including Wilmington.
To be eligible for the cheap coach tickets, the trains must depart between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Got a tip? Send to Isabel Hughes at [email protected] or 302-324-2785. For all things breaking news, follow her on Twitter at @izzihughes_