As the summer winds down, now is the perfect time for travelers to start planning for their next vacation. The much-anticipated Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays may still be months away, but the best time to book flights for these busy travel weeks is quickly approaching.
AAA released a report this week analyzing flight booking data from the last three years reveals that Sept. 25 marks the start of the best booking window for air travel around both the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
“Holiday travelers should make their plans now and begin booking their flights for Thanksgiving and Christmas as early as Wednesday, Sept. 25, for the best deals and availability,” said Paula Twidale, vice president, AAA Travel.
“Procrastinating travelers may be able to find last-minute deals on flights close to the holidays, as airlines look to fill their last few remaining seats, but flight availability for these peak travel weeks will be very limited by that time.”
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 on average). Surprisingly, AAA’s analysis found that travelers can find some of the best pricing ($482 on average) seven to 13 days before the holiday, Nov. 11-17 this year. However, limited availability will make seats hard to come by at these discounted rates.
According to AAA, flying Monday of Thanksgiving week is the best option for travelers to arrive at their destinations before the holiday. It has the lowest average ticket price ($486) prior to the holiday and is a lighter travel day than later in the week.
For travelers who are more concerned about crowds than cost, the Sunday before the holiday has the highest average price per ticket ($564) and it is consistently the lightest travel day. Travelers can save by traveling on Thanksgiving Day, which has the lowest average price per ticket ($454).
AAA found that the ideal time to book flights for the Christmas holiday is 61 to 90 days prior to the holiday (between Sept. 26 and Oct. 25), with prices lower on average ($551) than more advanced bookings. However, 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 is likely to 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. However, AAA found that Christmas Eve is the best day to travel. 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.
When it comes to getting the best value for your travel this holiday season, AAA recommends travelers start researching holiday travel options now and book flights by Oct. 27.
“Last year, AAA projected that 54.3 million Americans would travel over the Thanksgiving holiday and a record-breaking 112.5 million during the longer year-end holiday season,” said Twidale. “If those trends hold again this year, travelers are in for crowded airports and, possibly, longer wait times. Pack your patience and plan ahead, giving yourself plenty of time at the airport to maintain that holiday cheer.”