After an unprecedented holiday travel season during the height of the pandemic in 2020, holiday travel is forecasted to be busier this year, yet not quite back to 2019 numbers. Expect airfare to follow similar trends as years’ past where a “good deal” is relative due to generally higher prices during the high-season. But with more flexible work schedules and many travelers now able to work remotely, the busiest (and most expensive) days to travel may look slightly different in 2021.

Overall, airfares are trending around 10% less than 2019 prices according to data from CheapAir. Normally, it’s advised to track and book holiday flights well in advance whenever a good price and flight schedule appears. Of course, most people usually don’t think about booking holiday travel until fall but if you haven’t booked your trip yet, you’ll be happy to know that holiday airfare has been trending downward since the end of summer.

That being said, it’s still recommended to book sooner than later as holiday airfare will most likely rise again as we get closer to the date of travel. Plus, since most airlines are allowing free changes on most tickets, you’ll have the flexibility to change plans. To help you decide which days to travel, we’ll go over the dates that are forecasted to be the busiest and least traveled based on the days of the week that the holidays fall on this year.

Best and Worst Days for Thanksgiving Travel 2021

Aerial view of winding road through autumn forest

Thanksgiving travel is a bit more predictable than other holidays as it is always held on a Thursday and schools and non-retail businesses tend to close both on Thanksgiving Day and the Friday after the holiday.

According to data from Hopper, domestic airfare for Thanksgiving is averaging around $300 roundtrip. This agrees with CheapAir’s Thanksgiving airfare trends during the first week of October but the actual price you’ll pay will depend heavily on which days you’re able to travel.

Related: 8 Cheapest Places to Fly This Fall

Best Thanksgiving Travel Day

  • Monday, November 22

Data from Hopper suggests that the Monday before Thanksgiving offers the best fares. I also found this to be true while searching airfares on a few popular routes, although the departure date has much less of an impact on price compared to the return date. Flying on Monday also gives you some leeway in case there are any delays due to winter weather.

Other Good Thanksgiving Travel Days

  • Thursday, November 25 (Thanksgiving)
  • Friday, November 26
  • Tuesday, November 30

If you’re looking for the best deal and don’t mind traveling on the holiday itself, flying on Thanksgiving Day is typically the cheapest day to travel. Of course, for most people the slightly higher cost of flying on Monday or Tuesday will be worth it to not have the added stress of making it to dinner on time.

As for the return, you can save a lot of money if you’re able to adjust your dates to fly back either on Black Friday or on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving weekend. CheapAir suggests you can save around $180 per ticket, on average, if you can fly back on Tuesday instead of Sunday.

Related: The 7 Best Places to Go for Thanksgiving

Busiest Thanksgiving Travel Days to Avoid

  • Wednesday, November 24
  • Saturday, November 27
  • Sunday, November 28

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving will still be a busy travel day this year but airfares rise more rapidly if you need to return on either Saturday or Sunday after the holiday. This is especially true in 2021 since Sunday, November 28th also marks the start of Hanukkah. It would be best to avoid these days, if at all possible, as aircraft will be full and prices may be extremely high compared to surrounding dates.

Best and Worst Days for Christmas Travel 2021

Person holding a model plane in front of a Christmas background

Christmas travel is generally a little more flexible as it always falls on a different day of the week and school schedules tend to vary with some being closed for the entire week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Families may also prefer to take a longer Christmas vacation this year if it is possible to work remotely.

Since Christmas falls on a Saturday this year, the observed holiday may be Christmas Eve or the following Monday depending on the company, which makes for a perfect long weekend without the need to take extra vacation days.

Airfare data from Hopper suggests that Christmas flights are trending about 10% higher than 2019 levels with an average domestic price of around $430 roundtrip, which is drastically higher than 2020 levels ($250). This data shows that airlines are expecting higher demand for Christmas travel than Thanksgiving as hopefully more of the population will be vaccinated and Covid-19 variants will be under control.

Related: 10 Quintessential Fall Weekend Trips

Busiest Christmas Travel Days for 2021

As per usual, the busiest—and most expensive—day to travel around Christmas is the Sunday after the holiday, December 26th, which also coincides with the start of Kwanzaa. CheapAir suggests that you’ll pay $125 more per ticket, on average, if you fly home on Sunday compared to flying home on Tuesday. The busiest days for travel prior to the holiday are either just before Christmas Eve or the Sunday before with many travelers deciding to take an extended trip.

While flying on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day is generally cheaper, it’s actually cheapest to fly on December 21st this year due to it falling on a Tuesday, when airfare is typically cheapest overall. For return travel dates, you’ll find the best prices and fewer crowds if you can fly Wednesday or later the week after Christmas.

Best Christmas Travel Days 2021

  • Tuesday, December 21
  • Friday, December 24
  • Wednesday, December 29

Worst Christmas Travel Days 2021

  • Thursday, December 23
  • Sunday, December 26

Although Christmas travel airfares are currently trending higher than Thanksgiving travel overall, there is less variance in pricing for surrounding dates. It may make more sense to travel on your preferred dates rather than save a few bucks if you are inflexible with travel dates. Either way, don’t expect there to be many last-minute deals for holiday travel—especially if you want to travel on peak dates.

It’s best to book at least 21 days in advance, which is when fare rules usually dictate higher airfares. Generally, this means you should book your Thanksgiving flights before Halloween and book your Christmas flights before Thanksgiving. Last-minute sales may pop-up but you’ll be rolling the dice, and any last-minute deal will likely be for off-peak travel dates/times on budget airlines.

Whenever you choose to travel this holiday season, make sure to adhere to any COVID-19 protocols to ensure a safe travel environment so we can all enjoy this festive season with our loved ones.

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