It’s the most wonderful time of year and often one of the busiest times to travel. Like everything else in 2020, Christmas travel will be a whole different animal this year.

Domestic airfare is down about 40% according to a report released by Hopper in October. More recently, CheapAir has found average airfare is trending even lower than expected, with an average ticket price just slightly more than $200. Price fluctuations won’t be as big of a factor this year, so if you do plan to travel, it may be best to focus on giving yourself the time to quarantine and take other safety precautions such as testing.

To Fly or Not to Fly?

After the Centers for Disease Control and government officials urged Americans not to travel ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, the TSA still recorded a pandemic record with nearly 1.2 million travelers passing through checkpoints on Sunday, November 29, 2020. While this is down 60% compared to the same Sunday last year, it indicates that airports around the country are still likely to be busier around the Christmas holiday than they have been in recent months.

When making your decision on whether or not to fly this Christmas season, consider CDC guidelines for holiday celebrations and make sure you understand state and local requirements for travel. Certain states such as Hawaii and New York require a mandatory quarantine, which can be bypassed or reduced with a negative Covid-19 test. Local municipalities, such as Chicago, may have their own travel restrictions even if there isn’t a statewide order. Once you have gathered all the information, you’ll have a better idea of when you should travel, if you choose to do so at all.

When to Fly for Christmas 2020

If you do decide to fly, it’s best to fly sooner than later if you want to avoid crowded airports. Historically, the short time period between about a week after Thanksgiving and a week before Christmas is one of the slowest (and cheapest) travel seasons.

Prices will rise the closer you get to the date of departure. Since demand is way down this year, you’ll likely find current prices to be cheaper during the week of Christmas than they are in earlier weeks, simply due to advanced purchase requirements. The lowest prices often require a 14 or 21-day advance purchase. After that, airfares usually rise again within one week of travel and are generally highest if you book less than 3 days before departure.

Worst Days to Fly for Christmas 2020

  • Saturday, December 19
  • Saturday, December 26
  • Sunday, December 27

Since Christmas falls on a Friday this year, the busiest travel days are forecasted on the weekend immediately following the holiday. And if the trends for Thanksgiving travel are any indication, the Saturday before Christmas is likely to be one of the busiest of the season.

Other Busy Travel Days

  • Sunday, December 20
  • Wednesday, December 23
  • Sunday, January 3

Sundays continue to be a busy day to travel in general and with both Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on a Friday this year, it makes Sunday a very convenient time for many to return home after the holiday. December 23 is also a popular departure date for travelers who prefer to take a shorter holiday trip and it’s still expected to be a busier travel day in 2020.

Best Days to Fly for Christmas 2020

  • Thursday, December 10, or earlier
  • Monday, December 14
  • Tuesday, December 29

If you plan to visit family, the safest way to travel during the pandemic is to ensure you have the time to quarantine for a full two weeks. If remote work and school opportunities are available, you may want to fly a few weeks early and enjoy a less hectic experience at the airport.

Other Good Christmas Travel Days

  • Tuesday, December 22
  • Thursday, December 31
  • Tuesday, January 5

Tuesdays are typically the quietest days of the week for travel, so if you must fly the week of Christmas, December 22 may be your best bet. New Year’s Eve is also a great day to avoid crowds at the airport and if you want to take an extended trip into 2021, you might as well wait until the Tuesday after New Year’s to fly back home.

Change Your Flight Without Extra Fees

It’s understandable that you may be uneasy about traveling for Christmas this year. Since most airlines are now waiving change fees, you can choose to postpone your trip without incurring an extra fee. Whether you booked a flight earlier in the year and wish to change travel dates or are considering booking a new flight with flexibility, contact the airline directly for specifics regarding its flight change policy.

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