Late September is the best time to plan Thanksgiving and Christmas air travel

BOISE – (September 19, 2019) – The leaves are barely beginning to change colors, but it’s already time to start thinking about holiday airline travel.  According to AAA’s new research, late September provides the best combination of seat availability and reasonable prices.

Plane tickets purchased at the very last minute may be cheaper, but AAA says that most travelers finalize their plans about a month or two before the holiday.  Waiting any longer than that to book a flight is a risky proposition.

“As the economy continues to improve, people are flying in greater numbers and creating increased demand for the available seats,” says AAA Idaho public affairs director Matthew Conde.  “It pays to book now and avoid an expensive game of musical chairs later.”



Flying on Monday before Thanksgiving is the best option, with the lowest average ticket price before turkey day ($486).  While Sunday has the highest average ticket price ($564), it’s also the lightest travel day.  The heaviest travel days for this holiday are Tuesday and Wednesday.

Practical planners who book between 61 and 180 days prior to Thanksgiving had the best chance of securing their travel dates and preferred flight schedule, but they paid slightly more to do so (an average of $522 per ticket).  Meanwhile, last minute travelers will have the opposite trade-off – cheaper prices, but a dramatically reduced selection of seats and travel times.

The cheapest day to travel?  Thanksgiving Day has the lowest average ticket price ($454 per ticket), which may be ideal for those who are willing to gather with family and friends closer to dinnertime or for those who are planning a shorter trip.



Christmas Eve is the best day to head to the airport this year.  It consistently has the lowest average ticket price ($527) and it’s also expected to be the lightest travel day of the week.  December 21, 22, and 23 are the most popular travel days, but the busiest air travel day this year is December 22, and travelers will pay the second-highest ticket price on that day ($639).

Surprisingly, the most expensive plane tickets this year are projected for December 26, with an average cost of $639.  The combination of people returning home after the holiday and others who are traveling for New Year’s will likely create additional travel demand on that day.

Travelers who booked between 121 days and one year before the holiday have had their choice of itinerary, but they also paid more (between $616 and $659 on average).  Last-minute travelers will face extremely limited availability and a greater chance of layovers along the way, but the price may be worth the pain for those who are vacationing on a budget (on average, $488 per ticket).


“Travelers should double-check that their luggage meets the airlines’ size and weight restrictions,” Conde said.  “And if you are about to take to the sky with an old set of luggage, it may be time to upgrade to a material that’s lighter, stronger, and better designed for your current needs.”

AAA advises international holiday travelers to immediately obtain their passports and international driving permits if they have not already done so.  Foreign currency, electronic plug adapters and power converters should also be purchased in advance to avoid hefty fees when you land.