Traveling during Thanksgiving is the pits. Airports are packed, delays common and fares outrageous. What is a savvy traveler to do? It seems the only options are either to avoid traveling altogether or pony up peak prices for a plane ticket.
But another option exists for families willing to think outside the box: You can celebrate Thanksgiving the week before (or after) the actual holiday with an “un-Thanksgiving.” Like the Mad Hatter’s un-birthday in "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland," an un-Thanksgiving is a way to celebrate a holiday in a nontraditional way.
The idea of an un-Thanksgiving might sound weird or even sacrilegious to some, but it could save your family thousands of dollars. Here are the potential cost and comfort benefits of an un-Thanksgiving, plus tips for getting your far-flung family onboard with the notion.
The potential savings of an un-Thanksgiving will depend on your family’s size and travel needs, but for illustration purposes, we’ll make the following assumptions:
A family of four living in Washington, D.C.
Visiting extended family in Boise, Idaho.
Traveling from the Wednesday through Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend.
We used Google Flights to search for the best price on four economy tickets during both Thanksgiving week and the week before, excluding flights with unreasonably long layovers (over five hours).
Thanksgiving week flights
The best price available we found was four seats on a Delta flight for $954 each ($3,814 total for four).
These fares are in Delta’s main cabin, not basic economy, which means your family would get seat assignments.
Un-Thanksgiving (one week before)
The same search for dates exactly one week earlier returned a Delta flight with four main cabin seats for $417 each ($1,666 total).
Total airfare savings: $2,148
Keep in mind that this number only represents the savings for a single family of four. If you have an extended family that gathers for Thanksgiving from multiple locations, the overall savings could be much higher.
Improved airport experience
Saving hundreds or thousands of dollars is a good reason to skip Thanksgiving travel, but there are plenty of others. Last year an estimated 30.6 million people traveled by air in late November according to Airlines for America — the most of all time. This crush of demand exacerbates nearly every aspect of the already stressful family flying experience, including:
Airport traffic and parking.
Lines at check-in and security.
Overhead bin space.
Award travel blackout dates.
If you told yourself “never again” for the umpteenth time after experiencing the madness last year, 2019 could be the year you finally try something else. But convincing yourself isn’t the tricky part.
Convincing your extended family
Every year I tell my siblings we should plan an un-Thanksgiving, and every year they book flights for Thanksgiving week. It’s as if there’s a Thanksgiving inertia pulling everyone to travel at the same time.
While some of this inertia is based on legitimate issues like school and work schedules, there are other aspects to consider that may tip the scales:
Propose ways to use the saved money: The thousands of dollars each family will save in airfare can be used for fun ideas (e.g., theme park tickets) or pragmatic ones (e.g., offsetting December expenses).
Send them this article: It will help make this crazy idea not seem like just your crazy idea.
Double the vacation: An un-Thanksgiving is simply a long weekend that only requires taking two extra days off work. Then everyone can use the traditional long weekend as a relaxing staycation.
The bottom line
Whether it’s the sticker shock or crowds, there are plenty of good reasons to avoid air travel during Thanksgiving week. But that doesn’t mean you have to skip the gravy, pie and time with family. Float the idea of an un-Thanksgiving and see who bites. They might laugh at first — but they might also be grateful.
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: Find the best travel credit card for you Still haven’t booked holiday travel? 6 ways to save now your money-saving guide to holiday vacations (or staycations)