The Cheapest Days to Fly & 12 More Holiday Travel Tips

Sep 29, 2016

Complaints about stressful holiday travel are as old as St. Nick himself. Armed with these tips, you'll be able to pack some holiday cheer (plus unwrapped presents) while en route to Grandma's.

Pick the right day to fly

Busy airports, crazy-high fares, winter weather delays -- are you sure you want to do this? The busiest (and most expensive) travel days of the year are around the holidays. Armed with this guide, you'll save a lot of stress and small stocking of cash by picking the right days to fly. We also have handy fare calendars to show you the cheapest day to fly on 1000 popular routes.

Rise and shine

Don’t want to miss the carving of the turkey or the unwrapping of presents? Book the earliest flight you can. Sure, you’ve got to wake up early, but those first flights out are the least likely to be delayed, and airports are blessedly calm at those hours if you’re flying with the entire family. Or, fly on the actual holiday. Airports are much less busy, and if you fly early, you’re still there in time for the festivities.

A word about connecting flights

When booking flights with a connection and have a choice of airport, choose the one farther south -- less of a chance of a weather delay. And keep in mind that airports will be busier over the holidays, so allow some extra time to connect.

Upgrade your flight

Business travel is slow over the holidays, so those seats taken by business travelers tend to be empty. Look for business class seats on international flights -- you might be surprised to find that the upsell for the upgrade is only a couple hundred bucks.

It’s a wrap on pre-wrapping presents

Instead of packing a bunch of presents, consider buying your gifts online and have them shipped to your destination (to your name). Then just pack some gift bags and a sleeve of tissue paper and quickly wrap the presents when you get there.

Worried about traffic? Consider the train!

There’s a lot less stress when you’re not the one driving, and there’s no one else on the road. Watch the wintry scenery go by with a warm drink or wine in hand while catching up with your loved ones en route.

Drive day of

Some deal experts swear by this: drive on Christmas Day itself. You do need to make sure you’ve planned ahead and topped off your tank on the 24th, but if you ever want to feel like the freeways are all yours, spend a peaceful day on the road and timeshift your celebrations a little bit. It’s completely painless … but your fast food options might be a little more limited than usual.

Avoid getting hangry

Pack snacks! Assuming that you’re going to have time to grab something at a rest stop/pit-stop/café car is a surefire way to guarantee you won’t. Grab some nuts, a piece of fruit and an empty water bottle before you head out the door to make sure you aren’t hangry when you get to your final destination.

If worse comes to worse, think ahead ...

Busy holiday travel can occasionally mean chaotic airport runs and oversold flights. If your plans are flexible, capitalize on oversold situations by offering to get on the next flight out -- you’ll get a hefty travel voucher and can usually negotiate other perks such as priority lounge access or even a first-class seat on your new flight (based on availability).

Speaking of vacations ...

For those looking to get away, consider a destination Thanksgiving out of the U.S. It’s just a normal Thursday everywhere else -- so hop on an international flight and enjoy the holiday somewhere new.

Taking a week around Christmas to travel?

Go the week before instead of the week after the holiday. Deals are all over the place -- especially on vacation packages, cruises and hotels -- and you can enjoy the holiday spirit somewhere new.

New Year's Eve across the country

Manhattan hotel prices skyrocket on New Year’s Eve, but the Big Apple is not the only place to celebrate. Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Boston and Burlington, to name a few, host an array of festivities to bring in the new year, and low rates can be found at many of the hotels.

Cyber Monday sales

Good things come to those that wait, and if you can hold out until Cyber Monday, you’ll find that many hotel chains will be offering flash sales, including some holiday and last-minute stays. Subscribe to hotel newsletters so you can get the inside scoop, and keep an eye on Travelzoo for the latest and greatest offers.

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