Holiday Travel Outlook: Christmas & New Year's Travel 2021

For Christmas week, Hopper is expecting 2.2M travelers each day, reaching 85% of 2019 passenger traffic (~2.5M per day) and double 2020 traffic (~1M per day).

Adit Damodaran - Dec. 14, 2021

It's the most wonderful time of the year, but it's also the busiest at the airport. The expert team at travel app, Hopper has compiled its travel outlook on what to expect for the upcoming December holidays and tips for travelers hitting the skies over Christmas and New Year's.

Summary:

Busiest Airports

  • Following up its spot as the busiest airport over Thanksgiving, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International (#1) will again be the busiest airport for Christmas, with 140K departing seats on Thursday, November 23rd. Los Angeles (LAX) (#2) remained in the top three airports while Denver (DEN) (#3) knocked Dallas Fort-Worth (#4) down a spot. We expect each of the top three to see over 100K departing seats on their busiest days over the Christmas holiday week.

  • For Christmas, we’re expecting 2.2M travelers each day, or around 85% of 2019 passenger traffic (~2.5M/day) and double 2020 traffic (~1M/day).

Busiest Travel Dates

  • To Depart: We’re expecting the day before Christmas Eve (Thursday, December 23rd) to be the busiest travel day to depart leading up to Christmas, with 2.5M departing seats. 

    • With such high demand, not only do we expect this to be the busiest day to depart, but also the most expensive, with domestic flights averaging $455 round-trip. 

  • To Return: With a similarly high capacity of 2.5M seats, the day after New Year’s, (Sunday, January 2nd) will be the busiest day to return after the holidays. 

    • This also makes it one of the most expensive days to return, with domestic return flights on this day averaging $520 round-trip. 

Holiday Travel Demand

  • Domestic bookings on Hopper for Christmas are up 89% over 2020 and up 54% over pre-pandemic 2019 levels.

  • International bookings on Hopper for Christmas up 93% over 2020 and down 2% from 2019.

Most Booked Destinations for Christmas on Hopper

  • Domestic: 1.) New York City, NY ($346 round-trip); 2.) Orlando, FL ($345 round-trip); 3.) Los Angeles, CA ($460 round-trip)

  • International: 1.) San Juan, Puerto Rico ($300 round-trip); 2.) Cancun, Mexico ($382 round-trip); 3.) Mexico City, Mexico ($571 round-trip)

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Busiest Travel Dates:

To Depart:

  1. Thursday before Christmas Eve, December 23rd (2.5M departing seats)

  2. Wednesday before Christmas Eve, December 22nd (2.4M departing seats)

  3. Friday before Christmas Week, Friday, December 17th (2.4M departing seats)

To Return:

  1. Sunday after New Year’s, January 2nd (2.5M departing seats) 

  2. Monday after New Year’s, January 3rd (2.5M departing seats)

  3. Sunday after Christmas, December 26th (2.4M departing seats)

Most Expensive Travel Dates:

To Depart:

  1. Thursday before Christmas Eve, December 23rd ($455 round-trip)

  2. Wednesday before Christmas Eve, December 22nd ($432 round-trip

  3. Tuesday before Christmas Eve, December 21st ($392 round-trip)

To Return:

  1. Sunday after New Year’s, January 2nd ($520 round-trip)

  2. Saturday (New Year’s), January 1st ($485 round-trip) 

  3. Sunday after Christmas, December 26th ($423 round-trip)

Holiday Airfare Pricing

Christmas Airfare Prices:

  • Domestic: $420 round-trip (+8% from $390 round-trip in 2019, +68% from $250 round-trip in 2020)

  • International:  $1,100 round-trip (-12% from $1260 round-trip in 2019, +58% from $695 round-trip in 2020)

New Year’s Airfare Prices:

  • Domestic: $340 round-trip (equal to 2019, +50% from $230 round-trip in 2020)

  • International:  $760 round-trip (-13% from $875 round-trip in 2019, +26% from $602 round-trip in 2020)

Most Booked Destinations on Hopper for Christmas 2021:

Top Booked Domestic Destinations for Christmas on Hopper:

  1. New York City, NY ($346 round-trip), up 108% from $166 in 2020 and on par with $350 in 2019

  2. Orlando, FL ($345 round-trip), up 154% from $136 in 2020 and on par with $344 in 2019

  3. Los Angeles, CA ($460 round-trip), up 166% from $173 in 2020 and up 24% from $370 in 2019

Top Booked International Destinations for Christmas on Hopper:

  1. San Juan, Puerto Rico ($361 round-trip), up 87% from $193 in 2020 and up 2% from $354 in 2019

  2. Cancun, Mexico ($338 round-trip), up 4% from $325 in 2020 and down 33% from $504 in 2019

  3. Mexico City, Mexico ($571 round-trip), up 32% from $434 in 2020 and up 10% from $521 in 2019

Most Booked Destinations on Hopper for New Year's 2021:

Top Booked Domestic Destinations for NYE on Hopper:

  1. New York City, NY ($380 round-trip), up 122% from $171 in 2020 and up 21% from $314 in 2019

  2. Las Vegas, NV ($287 round-trip), up 70% from $169 in 2020 and up 31% from $219 in 2019

  3. Orlando, FL ($222 round-trip), up 72% from $129 in 2020 and up 9% from $204 in 2019

Top Booked International Destinations for NYE on Hopper:

  1. Cancun, Mexico ($300 round-trip), up 19% from $253 in 2020 and down 28% from $418 in 2019

  2. San Juan, Puerto Rico ($382 round-trip), up 109% from $183 in 2020 and up 6% from $361 in 2019

  3. Mexico City, Mexico ($475 round-trip), up 29% from $369 in 2020 and down 6% from $504 in 2019

Busiest Airports Expected for Christmas Travel 2021:

We’re expecting airports to be busiest on the weekdays just ahead of Christmas Eve. Atlanta-Hartsfield Jackson (#1) is expected to be the busiest airport for Christmas on the morning of Thursday, December 23rd. Atlanta is followed by Los Angeles (LAX) (#2) and Denver (DEN) (#3) as the three busiest airports for the holiday week, each with over 100k departing seats on the busiest days.

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Still haven't booked Christmas or New Year's plans? Best last minute deals still available:

Top Christmas Domestic Flight Deals still available on Hopper:

  1. Chicago, IL to Fort Lauderdale, FL for $228 round-trip

  2. New York City, NY to Tampa, FL for $243 round-trip  

  3. Washington D.C. to Fort Myers, FL for $261 round-trip

 Top New Year's Eve Domestic Flight Deals still available on Hopper:

  1. Atlanta, GA to Philadelphia for $232 round-trip

  2. Dallas Fort-Worth (DFW), TX to Denver, CO for $286 round-trip

  3. Philadelphia, PA to Charlotte, NC for $288 round-trip

Top Christmas International Flight Deals still available on Hopper:

  1. Chicago, IL to Paris, France for $811 round-trip

  2. New York City, NY to Santiago, Dominican Republic for $850 round-trip

  3. Houston, TX to San Juan, Puerto Rico for $855 round-trip

 Top New Year's Eve International Flight Deals still available on Hopper:

  1. Atlanta, GA to Aruba for $718 round-trip

  2. New York City, NY to Milan, Italy for $861 round-trip

  3. Chicago, IL to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico for $1,002 round-trip

Top Last-Minute Road-Trip/Staycation Deals for Christmas & New Year's Eve still available on Hopper:

  1. San Diego, CA ($108/night, 15% off usual prices of $127/night)

  2. Chicago, IL ($106/night, 13% off usual prices of $122/night)

  3. Charleston, SC ($200/night, 12% off usual prices of $228/night)

What to expect for rental car prices for December holidays?

Travelers may be relieved to know rental car prices are now around $70/day, a 30% decrease from rates over $100/day this summer and down slightly from $75/day going into Thanksgiving weekend. We’d expect prices to remain between $70-80/day for the December holidays. However, with overall travel demand up and due to ongoing inventory shortages in the car industry, prices are still up 40% from $50/day at the start of the year. 

How is the omicron variant impacting upcoming holiday travel?

On Hopper, we’ve seen a stronger interest in flexible booking options and disruption protection products for international trips, especially our Cancel For Any Reason and Change For Any Reason plans, which are now purchased collectively with 1 in every 6 international bookings (~16%), compared to 1 in every 8 pre-Omicron (~12%). 

Overall, around 1 in 3 Hopper users (32%) are booking with flexible booking options for upcoming holiday travel. This is comparable to pre-Omicron, because the increase in demand for flexible options post-Omicron has primarily been for international trips, which are currently just 15% of our overall bookings.

Since the Omicron variant was classified as a variant of concern on Thanksgiving weekend, we’ve seen a shift in searches towards more domestic travel. Flight searches are 61% domestic (and 39% international) at the moment, compared to 57% domestic and 43% international going into Thanksgiving. The 57/43 split before Thanksgiving was the closest we’ve been to a 50/50 split in domestic and international flight searches since the start of the pandemic. 

Holiday Travel Tips:

  • Avoid trip disruptions with Rebooking Guarantee - With more frequent delays and flight cancellations recently, and potential weather disruptions over Christmas and New Year’s, you’ll want to do your best to avoid any hiccups during your holiday trip. If you haven’t yet booked your travel plans, consider adding Hopper’s Flight Rebooking Guarantee - if your trip is delayed, your airline cancels your flight, or you miss your connecting flight, you can instantly rebook the next flight to their destination directly in the Hopper app from the airport, no matter the airline, at no additional cost. 

  • Reserve a rental car ASAP to ensure availability, if you haven’t already - Rental car prices are up 40% from the start of the year, currently averaging $75/day. Be sure to book a car now, if you plan to need one over Christmas week. If you’re flying to a major city, you may want to check nearby smaller airports for better prices and more availability. 

  • Look for special last-minute hotel deals - Search nearby big cities for lower staycation rates compared to leisure destinations and check geo-rates & special promotions at nearby hotels within driving distance. You can find exclusive last-minute deals with Hopper’s Stay The Night, directly in the app.

  • Book a staycation in a nearby city - You can find some of the best hotel deals over the holidays in big cities, like New York City. If you’re looking to plan a staycation, you can find great last-minute deals during the holiday week.

  • Add in a buffer to your travel dates - Try to bake some flexibility into your schedule if you can, especially when traveling for the holidays. It’s always a good idea to buffer an extra day or so, in case there are disruptions to your trip to ensure you can make it to your destination on time.

  • Book the first flight out and direct, if you can - If you're booked on an afternoon flight and an earlier flight gets disrupted, you're likely getting disrupted too. Therefore, we recommend booking the earliest flight available, so you’re less likely to be impacted by delays from earlier in the day. Also, if you can book a direct flight and avoid connecting flights - you're less likely to be impacted by delays over the holidays.

  • Do your research and be prepared in advance - Make sure you’re familiar with the travel guidelines in place and prepared to meet the COVID policies at your destination as well as the requirements to return to your home destination. For instance, make sure you’re traveling with proof of vaccination, COVID test results and have a clear understanding of what will be needed for your flight, hotel stay and at the destination when you arrive - particularly if you’re planning to travel internationally over Christmas and New Year’s.  

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