Christmas Travel: What Day Is Best to Hit the Road?

The holidays are a fun time.  There’s gift giving and receiving.  Reunions with friends and family.  But let’s face it.  One of the least enjoyable parts of December is Christmas travel.  Flights are expensive.  Airports have long lines.  And delays are almost inevitable.  So, when’s the best day to fly?

You likely have two goals in mind.  You want the best price on your tickets, and the later you take off, the more you’ll pay.  Plus, you want to travel on a day where you’ll spend the least amount of time waiting.  (Yet, you also want to minimize how much time you spend with your in-laws.)

Luckily, there’s some good news.

Don’t wait until Friday

Christmas travel girl in terminal
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Christmas falls on a Monday this year, meaning tons of folks will plan to work the week prior and fly out on Friday.  Don’t be one of these people.  USA Today predicts Friday, and Saturday and Sunday, will be the absolute worst days for Christmas travel.  Long lines, delayed flights, packed terminals, full flights—the list goes on.  If you want any semblance of a normal flying experience, get out by Thursday the 21st.

If you’ve got the flexibility, the cheapest tickets still available fall between Dec. 15-18.  Take the extended break; it’ll be worth it.

Tips for success

Christmas travel airport terminal
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Even if you’re one of the smart ones who manages to avoid flying the Friday before Christmas, you still need to be prepared.

Stick to a carry-on if you can.  Keeping your load light will help you avoid a potentially extended wait time at baggage claim.  Save space by wearing your heavier clothing.

Don’t wrap your gifts.  This is a huge mistake.  Airport security is predictably tougher during the holiday season.  If TSA screeners can’t get a visual on what’s in your boxes, you’ll be forced to rip them open.  And in the process, you’ll piss off a long line of already frustrated fellow travelers.

Be early.  This is basic advice but you should definitely heed it during this month.  Most times, early arrival at the airport leaves you with ample time to snack and read.  But now, you’ll likely have just enough time to board.

Be smart.  If you’re traveling with kids or a big family, take the time to ensure everyone has what they need before you leave.  Build in extra time for those who are very young or much older.  You don’t want them to slow you down and make you late.  But you also don’t want to rush them unnecessarily.

Christmas travel brings anxiety regardless of the circumstances.  But if you prep accordingly and fly on the least troublesome days, your journey home should be stress-free.