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. It really could be the best thing for your sanity and your wallet — and might make you feel like you’re traveling like a millionaire, without the millionaire budget.
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. According to online travel agency Kayak, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day are two of the most economical times to fly — even if you book flights at the last minute.
You can also save big if you fly out Christmas Eve. Another digital flight booking tool, CheapAir, estimates that travelers flying out Christmas Eve will save an average of $76 over a flight just two days earlier. And if you would prefer to take a vacation rather than visit family this holiday season, plane tickets to Europe would be as low as $704 if you chose to fly out December 25 and return New Year’s Eve, according to Kayak’s Explore Tool.
Bye-Bye, Large Crowds
The number of people traveling generally increases leading up to and following a holiday, but not actually on a holiday. Last year, the trade group Airlines for America found that the heaviest days for holiday travel were December 21, 22, and 26 — while Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve were the lightest.
In addition, the TSA just announced that it anticipates more than 25 million people to roll through security checkpoints across the country over the Thanksgiving holiday, from November 16 to November 26 — a 7 percent increase over last year. But the busiest dates will be the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and the Sunday and Monday following.
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Lines Are Shorter
When you’re racing to make a flight so you can get home and see your loved ones — sometimes in the midst of inclement weather — 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. Save yourself the headache and avoid making this mistake altogether.
With fewer people traveling on the holidays, you’ll face fewer people during checking in, during security screenings — and even 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, Singapore Airlines offers “festive sky dining” as an option to passengers over the holidays — the UK’s Daily Express reported in 2017 that economy passengers were offered classic Christmas roast, while those in business and first class dined on a premium holiday meal. First-class passengers also received a Three Bird Christmas Roast with a Christmas Log Cake and eggnog sauce. And in 2016, Virgin Atlantic airlines served a complimentary three-course meal to its passengers flying December 24 through the 26th.
Little Traffic — and Less Competition for Rides
While the roads are usually just as jam-packed as the airports over the holidays, CityLab reported last year 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.
Turn Your Holiday Travel Into a Vacation With a Cruise
Skip the frantic race to a less-than-glamorous destination and relax while you travel on a cruise. For example, Disney Cruise Line celebrates Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmastime and New Year’s Eve. If you sail out on Thanksgiving, you and your family can enjoy festive entertainment and a special Thanksgiving meal, so you can truly celebrate the holidays even if you’re not home.
Depending on date and docking locations, prices start at under $2,000.
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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 have been dropping just before the holiday period for several years, according to the American Automobile Association. In 2016, the average price of gas for Thanksgiving road travelers was the second-cheapest it had been since 2008 — falling short only of 2015’s record lows.
In 2017, Thanksgiving gas prices rose slightly year over year, but plummeted compared to prices the weeks prior. Find out if you’re getting the cheapest gas price near you.
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All listed prices were valid as of November 7, 2018.