There’s no place like home for the holidays — and there’s no place like an efficient airport for getting you there. Flying during the hectic peak holiday travel days in November and December can be a relatively smooth experience if you depart from one of the best airports in the U.S.
To identify the nation’s top spots, NerdWallet started with the 50 busiest airports, then analyzed data on delays, flight cancellations and places to eat. We factored in November and December cancellations for the past three years from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Restaurant ratings data are from Yelp reviews. Go to the end of this report to see the full details in the methodology.
The top 10 airports that our analysis found span five time zones and eight states. Florida is home to three of the top airports: Miami, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale. Each boasts a low rate of canceled departures and also high scores for restaurant quality, both of which make spending time at the airport more pleasant.
Best and worst airports for holiday travel data
Below are the data for the 50 airports analyzed, from best to worst, for holiday travel. Scroll to see all data.
|Rank||Airport and location||Percentage of flight departures delayed 30 minutes or more||Percentage of flight departures delayed one hour or more||Percentage of flight departures delayed two hours or more||Percentage of canceled flights||Average Yelp rating|
|1||Honolulu International, Honolulu, HI||3.7%||1.8%||0.8%||0.35%||3.6|
|2||Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Atlanta, GA||9.9%||4.2%||1.3%||0.45%||4.0|
|3||Phoenix Sky Harbor International, Phoenix, AZ||11.0%||4.3%||1.1%||0.58%||4.0|
|4||Seattle-Tacoma International, Seattle, WA||9.6%||4.3%||1.4%||0.47%||3.8|
|5||Miami International, Miami, FL||11.1%||5.1%||1.7%||0.60%||4.2|
|6||Tampa International, Tampa, FL||11.0%||4.9%||1.7%||0.53%||3.9|
|7||Portland International, Portland, OR||9.7%||4.5%||1.6%||0.65%||3.8|
|8||Louis Armstrong New Orleans International, New Orleans, LA||10.8%||4.9%||1.7%||0.67%||4.0|
|9||Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International, Fort Lauderdale, FL||12.2%||5.5%||1.9%||0.60%||4.2|
|10||Logan International, Boston, MA||9.6%||4.7%||1.6%||0.90%||3.9|
|11||San Antonio International, San Antonio, TX||10.9%||4.6%||1.5%||1.11%||4.2|
|12||John Wayne Airport-Orange County, Santa Ana, CA||11.2%||4.7%||1.6%||1.25%||4.3|
|13||Salt Lake City International, Salt Lake City, UT||8.8%||4.2%||1.4%||0.92%||3.4|
|14||Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall, Baltimore, MD||13.7%||5.2%||1.5%||0.78%||4.0|
|15||Pittsburgh International, Pittsburgh, PA||8.2%||3.8%||1.2%||1.24%||3.4|
|16||Charlotte Douglas International, Charlotte, NC||9.5%||4.4%||1.2%||0.72%||3.0|
|17||Minneapolis-St. Paul International, Minneapolis, MN||9.8%||4.9%||1.6%||0.92%||3.5|
|18||Ronald Reagan Washington National, Washington, D.C.||8.6%||4.1%||1.4%||1.50%||3.8|
|19||Southwest Florida International, Fort Myers, FL||10.9%||5.3%||1.8%||0.70%||3.6|
|20||Orlando International, Orlando, FL||11.6%||5.4%||1.8%||0.53%||3.4|
|21||Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International, San Jose, CA||13.0%||5.5%||1.7%||1.05%||3.9|
|22||Raleigh-Durham International, Raleigh-Durham, NC||10.2%||4.8%||1.6%||1.40%||3.7|
|23||Detroit Metro Wayne County, Detroit, MI||9.5%||4.9%||1.7%||0.98%||3.1|
|24||San Diego International, San Diego, CA||12.8%||5.6%||1.8%||1.52%||4.0|
|25||Los Angeles International, Los Angeles, CA||13.1%||6.0%||1.9%||1.12%||3.7|
|26||William P. Hobby, Houston, TX||16.9%||6.2%||1.5%||1.19%||4.0|
|27||Indianapolis International, Indianapolis, IN||10.1%||4.8%||1.8%||1.35%||3.3|
|28||Cleveland-Hopkins International, Cleveland, OH||10.9%||5.8%||2.2%||1.56%||4.0|
|29||Oakland International, Oakland, CA||15.6%||5.9%||1.5%||0.89%||3.4|
|30||Sacramento International, Sacramento, CA||11.7%||4.8%||1.4%||1.20%||3.1|
|31||Lambert-St. Louis International, St. Louis, MO||13.3%||5.5%||1.9%||0.97%||3.3|
|32||Philadelphia International, Philadelphia, PA||11.6%||5.8%||1.9%||0.99%||3.2|
|33||Houston George Bush Intercontinental, Houston, TX||12.7%||6.1%||1.9%||1.08%||3.4|
|34||John F. Kennedy International, New York, NY||11.6%||5.7%||1.9%||0.78%||2.9|
|35||McCarran International, Las Vegas, NV||14.8%||6.5%||2.1%||0.72%||3.4|
|36||Nashville International, Nashville, TN||12.4%||5.4%||1.9%||1.29%||3.4|
|37||Port Columbus International, Columbus, OH||11.2%||5.3%||2.0%||1.67%||3.7|
|38||General Mitchell International, Milwaukee, WI||11.9%||5.9%||2.2%||1.83%||3.8|
|39||Chicago Midway International, Chicago, IL||16.7%||6.4%||1.7%||1.52%||3.7|
|40||Austin-Bergstrom International, Austin, TX||12.6%||6.1%||2.4%||1.44%||3.4|
|41||Dallas Love Field, Dallas, TX||15.5%||5.8%||1.6%||1.46%||3.2|
|42||Washington Dulles International, Washington, D.C.||12.6%||6.7%||2.7%||1.70%||3.7|
|43||Kansas City International, Kansas City, MO||11.8%||5.4%||1.9%||1.24%||2.3|
|44||Denver International, Denver, CO||16.6%||7.9%||2.5%||1.49%||3.8|
|45||Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International, Cincinnati, OH||10.5%||5.8%||2.2%||2.33%||3.1|
|46||LaGuardia, New York, NY||12.7%||6.5%||2.3%||2.32%||2.7|
|47||Chicago O'Hare International, Chicago, IL||15.6%||7.6%||2.5%||2.70%||3.6|
|48||Newark Liberty International, Newark, NJ||15.7%||7.9%||2.7%||2.08%||3.0|
|49||San Francisco International, San Francisco, CA||16.1%||8.7%||3.2%||2.37%||3.3|
|50||Dallas/Fort Worth International, Dallas/Fort Worth, TX||15.0%||7.0%||2.1%||4.02%||3.4|
The 10 best airports for holiday travel
1. Honolulu International (HNL)
Fly from Honolulu International this holiday season, and say “aloha” to an on-time departure. Of the nation’s 50 busiest airports, Honolulu had the lowest percentage of flights delayed in each of the three times measured: over 30 minutes, over one hour and over two hours. When flights from Honolulu are held up, the average delay is about five minutes. Honolulu also had the lowest percentage of flights canceled: 0.35%, compared with the 1.24% average for all 50 airports.
2. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International (ATL)
This airport isn’t just one of the best for holiday travel, it’s also the headquarters of Delta Air Lines and one of the busiest places for air travel in the world. Over 100 million passengers, more than any other North American airport, traveled through Atlanta in 2015, according to Airports Council International. Relatively few of those passengers faced the dreaded canceled-flight predicament during holiday travel times, our analysis found. In November and December of the past three years, only 0.45% of flight departures from Atlanta were canceled, which is a rate second only to Honolulu International.
3. Phoenix Sky Harbor International (PHX)
Phoenix’s airport is one of the best for limiting long delays that can throw off connecting flights. In November and December of the last three years, 1.1% of flight departures from here were delayed two hours or longer. Only Honolulu International outranked Phoenix Sky Harbor International in this category. The restaurants here also had among the highest Yelp scores: an average of 4.0 out of 5 stars.
4. Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA)
Fly from Sea-Tac during the holidays, and you’ll likely get to your destination without a hitch. That’s because only 0.47% of flights from here are canceled, compared with an average cancellation rate of 1.24% at the 50 busiest U.S. airports. Only the international airports in Honolulu and Atlanta have lower rates of canceled flights. Seattle is also the headquarters and biggest hub for Alaska Airlines.
5. Miami International (MIA)
Data for the past three years for November and December show that flights from Miami International were canceled at less than half (0.6%) the rate at the average U.S. airport (1.24%). The restaurants here tied for the second-highest Yelp score, with an average of 4.2 stars out of 5. The average Yelp rating among the 50 airports analyzed is 3.6.
6. Tampa International (TPA)
This is another airport that stands out for its low percentage of cancellations: In Tampa, just 0.53% of flights in November and December of the past three years didn’t depart. The airport also boasts better-than-average scores in Yelp ratings and in each of the three categories of flight delays measured.
7. Portland International (PDX)
Flights from Portland’s airport are rarely delayed for long. In November and December 2013-2015, the data show that 4.5% of flights were delayed an hour or more, compared with the 5.5% average among the nation’s 50 busiest airports. Delays of two hours or more were recorded for 1.6% of Portland departures, while the average at the 50 airports was 1.8%.
8. Louis Armstrong New Orleans International (MSY)
Of the nation’s 50 busiest airports, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International outperforms the average in each of the three delay categories we examined, as well as in the rate of canceled flights and for restaurant Yelp reviews. In the past three years, less than 1% (0.67%) of November and December departures were canceled. New Orleans was also one of the 11 airports that received an average of 4.0 stars out of 5 at Yelp.
9. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International (FLL)
This airport is the third in Florida to make the top 10 list. While its rates of flight departure delays are close to average, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International stands out for its infrequent cancellations and crowd-pleasing restaurant quality. Its cancellation rate is among the lowest at 0.60%, and the Yelp average of 4.2 stars out of 5 ties for the second-highest restaurant score.
10. Logan International (BOS)
Logan International doesn’t stand out in any one area; rather, it boasts above-average scores in every metric examined. For example, 4.7% of its departures from 2013-2015 were delayed an hour or longer, compared with a 5.5% average of all 50 busy airports. Plus, the Yelp reviews for its restaurants boast an average of 3.9 stars out of 5, compared with the average airport’s score of 3.6.
How to cope traveling from the worst airports
Not everyone can depart from one of the best airports. Some may have to fly from Dallas/Fort Worth International, San Francisco International or Newark Liberty International, which NerdWallet’s analysis identified as the three worst airports for holiday travel. Here’s a plan for a smoother departure from any airport.
Enroll in TSA PreCheck to expedite security screening. If you’re designated as a low-risk traveler, you’re allowed to use the shorter PreCheck security line and continue wearing your shoes, belt and light jacket. You’re also permitted to keep your laptop and liquids inside your bags. To apply for TSA PreCheck, visit TSA.gov. You must appear in person at a screening center, be fingerprinted and pay a $85 nonrefundable fee, which covers membership for five years.
Apply for Global Entry to avoid waiting at customs. This program, run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, allows international travelers to avoid customs lines and paperwork when returning to the U.S. To enroll, travelers must fill out an application, pay a nonrefundable $100 fee and undergo an in-person interview and background check. Membership is valid for five years and includes free membership for TSA PreCheck.
Sign up for a travel credit card. Premium travel cards, as well as airline credit cards, vary in perks, but most offer rewards and zero foreign transaction fees. Some premium travel cards, like Chase Sapphire Reserve®, cover the cost of TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. Other cards waive or reimburse checked-bag fees. Many premium cobranded airline cards offer priority check-in and security screening, as well as early boarding.
Premium travel cards generally charge annual fees of $450 and require good or excellent credit. (Check your credit score before applying.) If you travel often and value perks, these cards may be worth the cost. For example, if you fly domestically five times a year and check a bag at $25 for each departing and returning flight, you would pay $250 in fees. Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers a $300 credit that could cover that cost. Or, say you also pay for $50 lounge passes on four different trips. That’s another $200 that most premium credit cards would cover.
Get access to airport lounges. Premium travel credit cards typically allow cardholders to spend time in select airport lounges for free. For example, The Platinum Card® from American Express grants access to Delta Sky Club, Airspace Lounge, Priority Pass lounges and American Express Centurion Lounge. Most of these lounges offer snacks, beverages, free Wi-Fi and, in some cases, access to showers and conference rooms. So if you’re hung up in San Francisco, Dallas/Fort Worth or LaGuardia Airport in New York — each of which has higher-than-average rates for flight delays — you can relax in a Centurion Lounge. You can also access these lounges by buying a day pass, which costs from $20 to $59.
Information related to the Chase Sapphire Reserve® has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.
Laura McMullen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @lauraemcmullen. Courtney Miller is a data analyst at NerdWallet. Email: [email protected].
NerdWallet examined U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics data on flight departures for November and December 2013-2015 to determine the nation’s 50 busiest airports for holiday travel. Then, we factored in delays, canceled flights, Transportation Security Administration line wait times and restaurant ratings to identify the best airports in the U.S. for travel in November and December.
Delayed flights. We analyzed flight departure data from the U.S. Transportation Department’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics to find the percentage of flight departures with significant delays in three categories: over 30 minutes, over one hour and over two hours, and the average time of delay at each airport. Data are from 2013-2015 for November and December. This is 40% of an airport’s score.
Canceled flights. We examined the percentage of flight departures canceled at each airport according to data from Bureau of Transportation Statistics for November and December 2013-2015. This is 40% of the score.
Restaurant quality. We analyzed Yelp rating data from all years of restaurant reviews at each airport to assess food quality. We looked at the average star rating from 0-5 of restaurants in, or in some cases, near the airport. This is 20% of an airport’s score.
Credit cards. Premium travel credit cards are any card with an annual fee of $395 or more a year. Premium airline credit cards are credit cards with an annual fee of $395 or more and are associated with a specific airline.