While the holiday season may still feel far away, the travel planning season is well underway. Over the last three years, prices for domestic holiday travel have been on a steady decline, and airfare for the 2019 holiday season is the lowest it has been in three years.
In an effort to help consumers book the most wallet-friendly trips this winter, the data science team behind Hopper analyzed historic and current flight prices to determine the optimal time to fly and buy for this holiday season.
What Will It Cost? Average round-trip domestic airfare for Thanksgiving will fall 3.9% this year to $294, the lowest price in the last 3 years.
When to Buy? Thanksgiving prices will start high and remain high through the holiday. Book your tickets in October for the best deals, or by November 7th (3 weeks before Thanksgiving) at the latest. After the 7th, expect prices to rise each day, spiking $10 or more per day in the last week before Thanksgiving.
When to Fly? Domestic travelers should plan to depart on Thanksgiving Day or Monday, November 25th to save up to 23% or $68 per ticket compared to departure on peak days.
What Will It Cost? Average round-trip domestic airfare for Christmas will fall 9.2% this year to $377, the lowest price in the last 3 years!
When to Buy? To get the best deal, buy Christmas flights before Halloween, when prices are lowest. If travelers aren’t ready to book so far in advance, prices will drop again for a short time 2-3 weeks ahead of Christmas. The absolute last day to get a great deal on a flight home for the holidays is December 8th. After the 8th, prices will spike $5 per day or more.
When To Fly? Depart on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve for domestic round trip flights to save over 30% compared to a weekend departure. If flying on the holiday isn’t possible, the next best day to depart will be Monday, December 23rd.
General Savings Tips
Start tracking prices now. Prices for domestic travel for Thanksgiving and Christmas will change more than 100 times between now and the holidays. Hopper users who watched holiday flights last year saved an average of $45 on domestic round-trip flights for Thanksgiving, and an average of $70 for Christmas.
Plan to book Thanksgiving and Christmas flights before Halloween. The best deals are available in October for round-trip airfare for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Thanksgiving prices will rise from then until the holiday, while Christmas prices will continue to fluctuate until early December.
Be Flexible. The best deals are available on the holidays themselves, but great deals are still available for flexible travelers. Leaving early in the week of Thanksgiving (Sunday/Monday) or at the last-minute for Christmas (December 23rd) could save travelers more than 20% off peak holiday prices.
Boeing Impact? While overall the 737 Max represented a very small percentage of global capacity, it’s possible that travelers planning trips at Thanksgiving and Christmas will have more difficulty finding a great deal on flights home if there is less capacity and less carrier competition on their particular route.
Over the last 3 years, prices for domestic holiday travel have been on a steady decline. Airfare for the 2019 holiday season is the lowest it has been in three years.
Domestic round trip airfare over Thanksgiving has consistently declined 4%-6% the last 3 years, and is expected to be 3.9% less expensive again in 2019.
Domestic round trip airfare over Christmas has consistently declined 9%-15% the last 3 years, and is expected to be 9.2% less expensive in 2019.
Travelers who are headed home or on vacation over the holidays should plan to book flights for both Thanksgiving and Christmas before Halloween. If booking in October isn’t possible, there will still be some deals available right before the holidays begin, if travelers are flexible on travel dates and times.
Thanksgiving prices will start high and remain high through the holiday. Book your tickets in October for the best deals, or by November 7th (3 weeks before Thanksgiving) at the latest. After the 7th, expect prices to rise each day, spiking $10+/day in the last week before Thanksgiving.
Prices for travel home for the Christmas holidays can be volatile, as they fluctuate for months in advance of the holiday season. The best time to buy Christmas flights is before Halloween, when prices are lowest. If travelers aren’t ready to book so far in advance, prices will drop again for a short time 2-3 weeks ahead of Christmas. The absolute last day to get a great deal on a flight home for the holidays is December 8th. After the 8th, prices will spike $5/day or more.
If you’re heading out of town for Thanksgiving, plan to leave as early as Sunday or Monday ahead of the holiday for the best deals. Prices will rise from Monday through Wednesday, before dropping on Thanksgiving Day. Departing on one of these lower cost dates could save travelers up to 23% or $68 on round trip airfare. If travelers are headed out of the country for the holiday, prices will be relatively stable but lowest Monday - Wednesday ahead of Thanksgiving.
Prices will fall as the Christmas holiday approaches, with discounts over 30% available for travelers willing to fly on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day compared to peak prices. If flying on the holiday isn’t possible, the next best day to depart will be Monday, December 23rd. International travelers should plan to depart on Christmas Day if plans are flexible to save 25% off peak prices.
More than 31 million travelers are expected to pass through US airports over the course of the Thanksgiving holiday week, nearly 4% more traffic than in 2018. More than 35 million travelers are expected to pass through US airports over the course of the Christmas holiday, almost 5% more traffic than in 2018.
Will the Boeing 737 Max groundings impact holiday capacity?
As of September, the Boeing 737 Max planes are tentatively expected to return to the skies in early November, but some airlines have already announced plans to keep their Boeing 737 Max fleets grounded until the Christmas holidays or through January 2020.
Airlines with grounded 737 Max planes have worked to manage capacity this summer by shifting capacity to ensure coverage of high demand routes by reducing/suspending daily service on lower demand routes. The highest demand routes which have been most protected during this summer are typically routes from large hubs to large hubs, routes like New York to Los Angeles or Chicago to Atlanta. Lower demand routes experiencing cancellations and service suspensions are more likely to be routes to and from smaller airport hubs that see lower daily demand. In the short term, this reallocation of capacity has worked relatively successfully, as summer travel demand is typically concentrated around high demand routes from large hub to large hub.
During peak holiday seasons, however, there is more demand for travel from larger hub airports to smaller, local airports as travelers head home for the holidays. It’s possible that travelers planning trips at Thanksgiving and Christmas will have more difficulty finding a great deal on flights home for the holidays if there is less capacity and less carrier competition on their particular route.
Early indications of this impact can be seen on one route which saw a reduction in service earlier this summer, Pittsburgh to Los Angeles, where daily service was cancelled by Southwest as they reallocated capacity on domestic routes due to the grounding. Though prices on this route remained relatively stable compared to 2018 levels through the summer, prices for departures beginning in September through the holidays are expected to be anywhere from 22% to 30% higher than in the previous year.
The data utilized for this study comes from Hopper's real-time "shadow traffic" containing the results of consumer airfare searches. Hopper collects, from several Global Distribution System partners, 25 to 30 billion airfare price quotes every day from searches happening all across the web. Demand is represented as the number of queries not actual ticket purchases. Good deal prices are represented by the 10th percentile prices which represents what a leisure traveler should expect to pay for a good deal on an economy class ticket.