Skip to content

Tips For Thanksgiving Travel, When Is The Best Time To Buy Airfare?

Oct. 15, 2013
6 min read
Tips For Thanksgiving Travel, When Is The Best Time To Buy Airfare?
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Pumpkins and Halloween decorations are suddenly everywhere, and that means that Thanksgiving is just around the corner, so it is time to start booking your travel plans if you haven't already.

Thanksgiving is notoriously the most expensive time of the year to travel.
Thanksgiving is notoriously the most expensive time of the year to travel.

Trying to make sense of airfare fluctuations and fare rules is a tough game to play, especially around the holidays, and Thanksgiving is usually the most expensive time. As usual, though, has parsed a mountain of data around Turkey Day airfares to show when the right time to buy might be. Once again, mid-October looks to be the deadline for getting a good deal locked in, so start looking now!

Kayak analyzed hundreds of millions of queries performed on the site last year to predict the cheapest times to book and travel for this year's holiday season.

As expected, fares increase drastically in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, which is on Thursday, November 28 this year. The cheapest times to book airfare for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve travel were found to be from September to mid-October, and airfares for Thanksgiving increased up to 17% after that time (and 51% for Christmas and 25% for New Year's Eve).

Don't miss out on a slice of the (pumpkin) pie by procrastinating on buying your ticket.
Don't miss out on a slice of the (pumpkin) pie by procrastinating on buying your ticket.

So while it is not too late to get a great price, the clock is ticking and you need to act fast and be flexible. Traditionally, the busiest - and therefore most expensive - days are the Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day (November 27, 2013) and the Sunday after (December 1, 2013), so avoid flying then if possible.

Thanksgiving Domestic Travel

Kayak Thanksgiving Fare Data.
Kayak Thanksgiving domestic fare data by search date.

This table from Kayak based on 2012 rates shows the rolling fares from the date of search. Surprisingly, fares were high in July when people rushed out to get ahead of the game with holiday travel, but then dipped in August and September before creeping back up again in October. From now onwards they begin to rise apart from a brief dip the second week of November, after which they escalate steeply.

Average US Domestic Fare

Of course, when you travel - not just when you book - greatly affects flight prices. The best day to depart if you are flying domestically is Monday, November 25 or Tuesday, November 26, when prices are 15-23% below average, according to Kayak. Then try to either have a shorter trip or a longer one, returning on Friday or the following Monday (December 2) after the rush. By being flexible, you can save up to 20% on your airfare!

Sign up for our daily newsletter
Thanksgiving Domestic Fares Table
Thanksgiving Domestic Fares Table

As you can see from the table above, the average US domestic fare ranges from $303 to $613 (based on 2012 prices), with the darkest green being the cheapest and the lightest red the most expensive, while it is hard to predict how much your trip will be depending on your destination, this gives a good idea of the ranges and percentage difference, with some as much as 30% higher than the average fare.

Thanksgiving Domestic Fare Percentage Differences.
Thanksgiving Domestic Fare Percentage Differences.

While the cheapest day to depart by -36% is Thanksgiving Day itself, many of us can't cut it that close in fear of missing out on Mom's famous roast turkey or the big football game of the day. The data on these tables is based on 2012, so the dates for the holiday are different, and be sure to check your calendar carefully before booking.

Thanksgiving International Travel

Average US International Thanksgiving Fare by Search Date
Average US International Thanksgiving Fare by Search Date

With Thanksgiving being such an American holiday, global travel is not as common, but many people do want to take advantage of the four-day weekend and go abroad. The fare patterns differ to domestic in that when booking in July through September they remained low, then rose steadily from mid-September all the way up to the week before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Thanksgiving International Fares
Thanksgiving International Fares Table

If you are flying internationally, try leaving close to or on Thanksgiving Day and stay through the weekend to save on airfare.

Thanksgiving International Differences
Thanksgiving International Differences

Remember that while Americans can't imagine life without it, Thanksgiving isn't celebrated around the world, so don't land in London or Paris and expect to be able to get a turkey dinner and pumpkin pie there - it is just a regular Thursday for them!

Charlie Brown and Snoopy celebrate Thanksgiving, but remember that if you travel internationally then they won't be serving turkey dinner.
Charlie Brown and Snoopy celebrate Thanksgiving, but remember that most other countries don't.

Personally, I don’t know why everyone freaks out so much about Thanksgiving travel – yeah, it’s a little crowded, but it’s no different than many other peak travel periods. A packed plane is still a packed plane whether it’s a day before Turkey Day or a busy spring break weekend.

I hope this helps keep the holidays stress-free, and stay tuned for more tips from TPG and Kayak on Christmas and New Year travel in the upcoming weeks!
[card card-name='Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express' card-id='22034414' type='javascript' bullet-id='1']

Featured image by Nobody makes Thanksgiving dinner like mom, so you don't want to miss out due to high airfares.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers