Four Christmas Flight Booking Tips

Follow these Christmas flight booking tips from Phil Dengler, co-owner of the Vacationer.

Man looking outside at flying airplane
(Image credit: Iam Anupong)

Traveling this holiday season? You're not alone. 50.44% or nearly 131 million American adults will travel for Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa this year, according to The Vacationer. Before you go, there’s a few key things you should know. Consider these Christmas flight booking tips when planning your travels. 

1. Book in advance

Unfortunately, if you’ve dragged your feet and waited to book your holiday travel, you’re not in luck. The best time to book Christmas flights is much, much earlier than you may think. While it can be difficult to book months in advance if you don't have concrete travel plans yet, booking in June, July and August will offer the best combination of inventory and cheap prices, according to the travel website The Vacationer. Booking throughout early and middle September is also a great time to buy holiday flights. 

If you wait until December, available flights will be more expensive and less convenient or comfortable. 

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2. Fly on the best days 

There are also specific days when holiday travel is recommended, and when it’s not. In a recent study,  the Vacationer identified the best Christmas travel dates for 2023, along with the worst.

Below are the best departure and return dates for Christmas travel this year. 

Best Departure Dates:

  • Monday, December 18
  • Tuesday December 19
  • Wednesday December 20 
  • Christmas Eve or Christmas Day

Best Return Dates: 

  • Thursday, December 28
  • Friday, December 29

On the other hand, these are the worst departure and return dates for Christmas travel this year.

Worst departure dates: 

  • Thursday, December 21
  • Friday, December 22
  • Saturday, December 23

Worst return dates: 

  • Tuesday, December 26
  • Wednesday, December 27

If you plan on traveling around New Years, Phil Dengler, co-owner of the Vacationer, recommends leaving on Thursday, December 28 or Friday, December 29 and returning on Wednesday, January 3 or Thursday January 4. 

3. Avoid cancellations

Dengler has several other important tips for those booking Christmas flights this year. One of these is to book direct flights to avoid the hassle of cancels or delays. 

“Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) such as Expedia and Priceline sometimes have better flight prices than booking directly with the airline, but there is a drawback. When you book with an OTA, you contact them in the event you need to change or cancel your itinerary," says Dengler. "While that is not usually a problem, it is if your flight is delayed or canceled. Every second counts, so I recommend booking directly so you can avoid the middleman and talk directly to the airline to inquire about rebooking a new flight or canceling your existing itinerary.”

Most holiday travelers this year aren't confident in airline schedules. In fact, more than 59% of American adults say they have little or no confidence in airlines being able to avoid excessive delays and cancellations this holiday season, according to the Vacationer. However, booking flights early in the morning (8 am or earlier) and flying on the least busy days can also help you avoid significant delays or cancellations.

Also, check to see if your credit card has travel insurance, which can provide compensation in the event your flight is delayed or cancelled. Check out Kiplinger's picks for the best travel rewards credit cards

4. Don't check a bag 

Dengler suggests that, if possible, travelers should avoid checking a bag. If you're able to manage with just a carry-on, you can avoid long lines and lost luggage. 

He says, "If possible, do not check a bag if you are flying during the 2023 holiday season. With a record number of travelers expected, baggage drop lines are going to be very long. Additionally, airlines lost and misplaced a lot of bags last year."

In 2022, the baggage mishandling rate swelled to 7.6 bags per thousand passengers in 2022. This is a 74.7% increased compared to 2021, reports SITA. They also found that the proportion of bags delayed at transfer increased to 42%. 

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Erin Bendig
Personal Finance Writer

Erin pairs personal experience with research and is passionate about sharing personal finance advice with others. Previously, she was a freelancer focusing on the credit card side of finance, but has branched out since then to cover other aspects of personal finance. Erin is well-versed in traditional media with reporting, interviewing and research, as well as using graphic design and video and audio storytelling to share with her readers.