The holidays are quickly approaching, which means scrambling to buy gifts, figuring out who to tip and how much, higher airline prices and millions of people hitting the road and the skies to visit family and friends.
If you’re getting stressed about the season, you may want to consider a whole new travel plan: leaving on the actual holiday, instead of on the days before. Not only can you save money, but some surprising perks might help you realize why you should travel on the holidays more often.
Last updated: Nov. 2, 2021
Prices Are Cheaper
While airline prices might skyrocket the closer you get to a holiday, prices are generally cheaper if you travel on the actual holiday. Although that may not always be ideal, Thanksgiving and Christmas travel can save you a lot of extra cash.
KAYAK reports you can save $50 on average if you book travel on Thanksgiving rather than the day itself, and flights on Christmas or Thanksgiving are up to 6 percent cheaper than flights on the days surrounding them.
You can also save big if you fly out Christmas Eve. Airfare experts say a ticket can cost you 50 percent less if you fly out the day before Christmas.
Bye-Bye, Large Crowds
The number of people traveling generally increases leading up to and following a holiday. Thanksgiving travel bookings reservation volume are up by 302 percent from last year, and are 93 percent higher than 2019. Christmas bookings are up 469 percent compared to 2020, and 157 percent higher than 2019.
Even during the pandemic, December 23 still proved to be the busiest travel day before Christmas, and the Sunday following Christmas was the busiest one after the holiday.
However if you travel on the actual holiday, you’re looking at drastically less contact with other people, keeping health risks and crowding concerns at bay. Plus, there’s nothing worse than getting stuck in a long line. Waiting to get through airport turnstiles and get your bags examined can be a real pain. With fewer people traveling on the holidays, you’ll face fewer people during checking in, during security screenings and lining up to board. You may even have time to to soak up a little holiday cheer before you fly at an airport restaurant.
Free Upgrades in Accommodations
With the dip in crowds and travelers on Christmas and Thanksgiving Day, you might be able to upgrade your travel accommodations- from scoring a seat in first class to moving to a better hotel suite.
How? Just ask. At least, that’s what Lilit Marcus from Condé Nast Traveler suggested in her report on Christmas Day traveling. As long as you’re polite and there is enough room on the plane, Marcus says airlines with staffers who’ve gotten into the holiday spirit might bump you to first class.
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Enjoy a Holiday Meal
Airlines know it can be difficult to be away from loved ones for the holidays, so some try to bring the holiday to you with holiday-themed meals, movies and entertainment.
For instance, in 2019, Japan Airlines served smoked turkey, gingerbread cookies and holiday cocktails. Thai Airways joined in the fun with chocolate mousse in gift boxes. Emirates served roasted turkey breast and apricot stuffing, roast potatoes with creamy brussels sprouts with turkey bacon and cranberry jus lié to lucky business and first class customers.
Little Traffic — and Less Competition for Rides
While the roads are usually just as jam-packed as the airports over the holidays, CityLab reported that congestion was lowest on Christmas day itself versus the days before and after the holiday, especially in major metro areas — in New York City, for example, trips were delayed by as much as three times on Wednesday, December 20 between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m. The story on Thanksgiving was similar, according to the American Automobile Association. So it’s a smart time to ditch your car and Uber or Lyft everywhere (especially if you’ve been toasting the holidays).
But beware: Ride-sharing services have historically included a surcharge on ride prices during the holidays, according to the New York Daily News and ride-share blog The Ride Share Guy. Be sure to double-check the fare when booking a ride, and try to travel at off-peak hours.
Travelers Tend to Be More Polite
Traveling over the holidays can be a pain point for many people, inspiring many passengers to either be rude and hostile — or simply keep their heads down and headphones in.
But that changes if you travel on a holiday, according to Marcus in Condé Nast Traveler — for flight attendants and airport staff and especially fellow passengers. “Travelers are actually nicer, too: The solidarity of knowing we’re not with our families and that work schedules aren’t the easiest things to negotiate usually results in kinder, friendlier crew and passengers alike,” Marcus wrote.
More Room to Stretch Your Legs
There are two times when you feel particularly lucky while traveling via subway, train or plane: If you manage to snag a window or aisle seat — or if you don’t, there’s nobody sitting next to you. But with all those smaller crowds, the chances of getting sandwiched between two other passengers is less likely. So kick back and enjoy those extra seats.
Gas Prices Are Usually Lower
Although millions of people hit the road for Thanksgiving, gas prices are relatively low. The national average for gas prices is $2.17 per gallon as of Oct. 23, but the final price you pay depends on the state you’re traveling in. Find the cheapest gas near you using apps like GasBuddy that show all the lowest reported prices using your location.
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Sam DiSalvo contributed to the reporting for this article.