Daily Press (Sunday)

The best days to fly around Thanksgivi­ng in 2023

- By Sally French

Thanksgivi­ng week tends to draw major airport crowds, and coupled with inevitable weather delays, it can be a brutal time to travel. Not to mention, the convention­al wisdom to fly on Tuesdays won’t necessaril­y save you much money.

But some days within Thanksgivi­ng week are significan­tly busier than others. If you can afford to be flexible with scheduling, you’ll not only save money, but you might also avoid chaos.

The best and worst days to fly around Thanksgivi­ng

NerdWallet analyzed the past four years of checkpoint travel numbers provided by the Transporta­tion Security Administra­tion, which tracks the number of passengers screened daily in the U.S. at its checkpoint­s.

In each of the past four years, the Sunday after Thanksgivi­ng was the most crowded day to travel from the seven days before and after Thanksgivi­ng.

As far as the least crowded? Thanksgivi­ng Day itself.

When averaging over the past four years, here were the most to least crowded days for Thanksgivi­ng flying:

1. Sunday after Thanksgivi­ng (most crowded). 2.Wednesday


3. Friday before.

4. Mondayafte­r(CyberMonda­y).

5. Saturday after.

6. Sunday before.

7. Tuesday before.


8. Thursday before.

9. Monday before.

10. Saturday before.

11. Thursday after.

12. Tuesday after (Giving Tuesday).

13. Friday after (Black Friday).

14. Wednesday after. 15.Thanksgivi­ng Day (least crowded).

When broken out by pre- and post-holiday travel, here are the three least-crowded days to travel ranked from least to most crowded. Because they’re less crowded and likely less expensive, it makes them some of the best days to fly around Thanksgivi­ng.


„ Saturday before (least crowded). „ Monday before.

„ Thursday before.


„ Wednesday after (least crowded).

„ Black Friday.

„ Tuesday after.

By almost all metrics, the Sunday after Thanksgivi­ng is pretty much the worst day of the year to fly. In 2019, 2021 and 2022, it was the busiest single day of the entire year in terms of U.S. passengers, based on TSA passenger data.

(The post-Thanksgivi­ng Sunday wasn’t the busiest day of the year in 2020 because, well, you know why. The most-crowded-day award in 2020 went to Friday, Feb. 14, which preceded the Presidents Day weekend and pandemic-related travel restrictio­ns.)

Here’s a breakdown of the number of people flying on Thanksgivi­ng Day versus the Sunday after Thanksgivi­ng in three recent years:

For every 100 people who were flying on Thanksgivi­ng Day 2022, there were 183 people flying on the Sunday after.

The smarter, cheaper Thanksgivi­ng weekend itinerary

If you work a standard Monday-Friday workweek, with two days off for the holiday, then leaving Wednesday after work and flying home Sunday night might make sense. That’s the schedule most people follow to avoid taking extra time off, and if you join in, then you’ll pay — both in terms of cost and crowds.

Beyond crowds, expect to pay big this year. Sure, average airfares are actually cheaper this year versus last (and are even cheaper this year versus pre-pandemic), with average airfares for the first six months of 2023 down 7.2% versus the same period in 2022, according to a NerdWallet analysis of consumer price index data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But airfares can still feel incredibly high. That’s for a few reasons, including that basic economy seats have lowered overall prices. But for folks who end up paying a la carte for benefits that were typically included in the past (e.g., checked bags or the ability to select your seat), the total cost can end up sometimes more expensive given all those ancillary fees.

So how can you choose a better Thanksgivi­ng travel itinerary to save money? Avoid the Wednesday-Sunday itinerary and try these travel days instead.

Travel on Thanksgivi­ng Day

Across travel days for the week before and after Thanksgivi­ng, the holiday was the lowest-traffic day every year over the past three years. Book the first flight out for the day — a practice NerdWallet recommends anyway to reduce your odds of a flight delay — and you might even land in time for Thanksgivi­ng dinner.

Stay longer

If you can extend your trip, the Wednesday after Thanksgivi­ng is, on average, the second-emptiest day to travel. Especially if you have the option of remote work, you might be able to avoid taking vacation days, despite the longer trip.

Why flying the Sunday after Thanksgivi­ng is so terrible

Fly on Black Friday

If you must travel during the weekend, consider having Thanksgivi­ng dinner at your own home, then flying somewhere on Black Friday, which is the third-least crowded day to fly on average.

Look at it as a great way to not only avoid airport crowds but also retail crowds because you won’t be out shopping.

The standard rules around the best (and worst) days to fly don’t necessaril­y apply. Coupling that with convention­al wisdom around saving money on flights, flying for Thanksgivi­ng might not be as painful a propositio­n as you once thought.

 ?? SCOTT OLSON/GETTY ?? Travelers navigate a security checkpoint at Denver Internatio­nal Airport on Nov. 22, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. Convention­al wisdom on which day of the week is best to fly goes out the window when it comes to Thanksgivi­ng travel.
SCOTT OLSON/GETTY Travelers navigate a security checkpoint at Denver Internatio­nal Airport on Nov. 22, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. Convention­al wisdom on which day of the week is best to fly goes out the window when it comes to Thanksgivi­ng travel.

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