How Expensive is Holiday Travel and Which Are the Busiest Airports?

Holiday travelers at Salt Lake City Airport

Holiday travel | George Frey/Getty Images

Stuck in an endless TSA line? Or feel like you had to bust open your emergency account just to fly home for Christmas? If that’s the case you may be heading to one of the more popular destinations. And unfortunately having to travel through one of America’s busiest airports.

In its annual holiday travel survey, Hopper identified several holiday travel metrics, which trend toward more people taking to the skies to get home in time for Christmas. In general, holiday travel spending is up. Americans spent 6% more on Christmas air travel this year than last. The total amount spent over the holiday period forecast is at $1.8 billion in 2018 compared to $1.7 billion in 2017, Hopper reported. So how expensive is it to get to your holiday destination? And how crowded will it get?

Travel prices are a mixed bag

Although Americans collectively spent more on holiday travel, there is a silver lining. Especially if you travel domestically. Hopper found prices rose for international travel. Going from $1,067 during the 2017 holiday period to $1,133 this year.

However, for domestic travel, prices dropped, Hopper reports. Travelers paid $336 for roundtrip holiday travel in 2017. However this year the average price is $304, down 9.5%.

But more people are flying

busy airport terminal

Holidays often equal extra headaches at the airport. | AFP PHOTO/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

More flights are available this year as the number of trips increased by 7% in 2018 over last year, according to Hopper. An estimated 30.3 million holiday revelers are taking to the friendly skies as compared to the 27.5 million who traveled in 2017.

Plus the number of daily passengers surpassed the 3 million threshold for the first time, Hopper reports. This is this is another record number. Additionally, U.S. domestic airline capacity will grow by 7.3% year over year in December to manage demand.

Which days are going to be the busiest to fly? Hopper says travelers ran into the most crowds on the 20th and the 21st with just below 3.3 million daily passengers. And for your return trip home, avoid traveling on December 30 if possible. That’s when Hopper anticipates more crowds.

And some airports are just busier than others

Airports that are seeing the most traffic include Chicago, Denver, and Orlando. These hubs are experiencing more than a 10% increase this year over last. The top 5 busiest airports (and times) this year include:

  • Atlanta/ATL (7-8pm)
  • Los Angeles/LAX (8-9am)
  • Chicago/ORD (6-7pm)
  • Dallas/DFW (6-7pm)
  • New York/JFK (7-8pm)

Some tasty destinations ripe for the picking

You may be reading this to break up boredom while waiting in a TSA line, but here are some destinations Hopper thinks are worth the money this holiday.

If warm weather is what you want, check out Saint Martin. The average price for a Christmas holiday in Saint Martin fell to around $1,250. This is after the island had to recover from significant damage from Hurricane Irma. But if snow is what you desire, check out Canada or even Iceland. Flights to Canada from the U.S. dropped on average by 23% from $378 to $290. Prices also declined to Iceland from the U.S.  Flights went from $734 in 2017 to $579 in 2018 (-21%).

Also, if having a “Dickens” inspired Christmas is what you desire, the United Kingdom may be affordable. The average flight price dropped from  $905 to $824.

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