Flights around the holidays can be some of the biggest travel expenses of the year. At a certain point — maybe while you're stuck in your Uber at the peak of holiday airport traffic — you might begin to wonder if there’s an easier and cheaper way to get to your destination.
One unconventional way to save is to celebrate an un-Thanksgiving — but if Grandma insists that Turkey Day can’t be celebrated any other time, you might have to be creative with which days you choose to fly.
Travel search company Hipmunk looked at domestic flight data to find the best days to fly around Thanksgiving and Christmas; here’s what they found.
Cheapest days to fly around Thanksgiving
During Thanksgiving week, about 45% of departure bookings are on Wednesday (the day before Thanksgiving), versus only 12% on the Monday before or 14% on Thanksgiving day itself. You can save about 12% on average if you depart Thursday instead of Wednesday — so maybe ask if the big dinner can be held later in the day.
But Hipmunk found that the return flight you choose has a bigger impact on price than your departing flight does. Coming back on Sunday means you'll pay more than 32%, on average, above typical booking prices. The Wednesday to Sunday itinerary is the one you should avoid, with a median round-trip domestic flight price of $483. Come back just one day earlier (Wednesday to Saturday) and you could save about $88 on average, Hipmunk found.
The cheapest itinerary is likely to be Thursday to Friday, with a median round-trip domestic price of $307. But since it might not be worth flying for such a short trip, you may want to look at the next best thing: longer round-trip flights that come back on Friday. The median prices of round-trip domestic flights that depart on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday and come back Friday are all under $320, according to Hipmunk.
Cheapest days to fly around Christmas
Because winter breaks are a bit more spread out, you have many more affordable options when it comes to Christmastime travel. Based on Hipmunk’s historical data, departing on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve makes for the most inexpensive flights, with median round-trip prices for domestic flights under $400. Most people choose to depart earlier, with 68% of people booking flights departing between December 21-23.
As far as return dates, it’s about equally as busy to depart on any of the four days after Christmas. On average, the cheapest itineraries (that aren’t super-short trips) are Dec. 24-28 or Dec. 25-29. The most expensive itineraries are those for the entire week surrounding Christmas, like Dec. 21-29, which has a median price of $547 on round-trip flights in the U.S.
When to book
The earlier, the better. If you can book this week (the first week of September), you could save an average of 19% on Christmas flights, or 12% of flights for Thanksgiving, compared to peak prices. For Thanksgiving flights, you might also find some lower prices from Halloween through mid-November. Check Christmas bookings again the first week of October or early December.
However, be aware that waiting could cost you your seat on a nonstop flight, or force you to fly at inconvenient hours as availability becomes more limited.
» Learn more: The best days to book a flight and when to fly
The bottom line
Play with dates in Google Flights. If you have the flexibility to work remotely or take time off around the holidays, it could save you $100 or more to fly on lower-demand days. The same goes if you’re trying to book a flight using your travel rewards. Many U.S. airlines offer different levels of award pricing based on demand, so you might be able to spend fewer points if you fly on the cheaper days.
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: Find the best travel credit card for you Snag these hotel loyalty perks, even if you’re disloyal Earn more points and miles with these 6 strategies