Santa isn't the only one logging flight time on Christmas. Savvy travelers know that December 25 is the cheapest day of the holiday season to fly and jump at the chance to stroll through only moderately busy airports. But a bit of savings isn't the only reason to book a flight. According to Rick Seaney, CEO of the deal site FareCompare, traveling on the holiday also means having a better chance of making it to your destination on time and in decent psychological condition.
"The bottom line is that it's a better day to fly because there is less chaos and because people like to head to the airport after Santa comes in the morning so everyone is in a pretty good mood," says Seaney. "The airline employees tend to be pretty jovial."
There are practical considerations as well. Christmas falls on a Wednesday this year, which means that flight on Christmas eve will be less expensive – Tuesday is almost invariably the cheapest day of the week to travel – and airports will be absolutely packed with fliers who got a decent deal. Happy as those holiday travelers may be to have avoided astronomical weekend prices, they may be less happy with their travel experience: A little less than 20 percent of holiday flights are delayed or canceled and trying to find a different route to your final destination on Christmas Eve can be a nightmare because most flights are sold out. On Christmas Day, when seat supply dips slightly and demand plummets, airlines have an easier time finding passengers alternate routes.
"There are middle seats open on Christmas," says Seaney. "So you're more likely to actually make it to where you're going."
Then there is the matter of getting back. According to Seaney, FareCompare statistics show that airlines treat December 27 as a "magic day," marking prices up significantly for the following week. This is why he recommends looking for "hacker fares," combinations of one-way tickets that cost less than round-trip bookings. A cheap Christmas flight and an expensive post-holiday flight are likely to cost less in total than a complete holiday getaway – especially if you're headed south to the Caribbean or Florida, where smaller carriers offer more competitive prices.
Seaney says that flying during the holiday season is all about planning ahead, managing expectations (your family's and your own), and doing whatever you can to smooth out the inevitable wrinkles. Flying on Christmas won't eliminate the stress of the season but it might just minimize it.
More information: The rise of sites like FareCompare has incentivized airlines to price flights similarly in order to avoid falling in deal-results rankings. Comparison shopping is always a good idea, but don't assume your failure to find a better price is due to your method of searching. In all likelihood, there is simply nothing else out there.