4 Best Airlines For Holiday Domestic Travel

Finding a needle in a haystack may seem easier than finding holiday flight travel deals. The Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day stretch is one of the busiest times for travel. Thankfully we have a few tips for domestic holiday travel. Flying with the best airlines can help you be home for the holidays and pay the least amount possible.

American Airlines

American Airlines is one of the best legacy carriers for booking award flights, as they still publish an award chart that makes it easy to estimate the number of required miles. Instead, most carriers have switched to a revenue-based system where the mileage requirements fluctuate with the cash value of the ticket price.

MileSAAver awards in the main cabin will be the cheapest award flight option. Admittedly, these discount fares take a lot of work to come by during the peak holiday travel season. But, if you’re lucky, a one-way flight costs up to 12,500 plus $5.60 in fees and taxes.

The AAnytime Level 1 award flights can also be reasonable and may cost as little as 20,000 miles when other airlines might charge from 22,000 miles to 30,000 miles for the same route. Similar to paying with cash, the most affordable award flights usually have less desirable departure times and layover windows.

If you’re on a tight travel budget, the network carrier also lets you bring one carry-on and one personal item free of charge on basic economy fares. While this benefit may not seem important, other airlines usually charge to bring a bag onboard for the no-frills ticket class.

Delta Air Lines

Delta Air Lines is another competitive option with above-average reliability ratings, but the cash prices can be higher on an ongoing basis than the competing legacy carriers.

Still, you can find competitive award flights with a variable-pricing model. For example, one-way fares from Los Angeles to Orlando on December 19, 2022, are available from 32,000 SkyMiles in the main cabin. While this seat isn’t exactly a bargain, it’s not outrageous.

Passengers get one free overhead bin carry-on when basic economy fares are available. Additionally, main cabin and premium fares won’t incur change fees.

Southwest Airlines

Of the discount airlines, Southwest is usually the best option with its expansive network and competitive fare prices. Open seating and two free checked bags also add additional value.

Air travelers with a flexible travel schedule can secure a limited-time fare sale. However, blackout dates usually apply to the busiest Thanksgiving and Christmas travel dates.

While many people know about this airline’s competitive prices, their fares don’t populate in most flight search engines, so it’s easy to overlook these flights.

The cash prices for flights are similar to many of the legacy carriers, but your rewards points might get more mileage. For instance, you may only need approximately 22,000 miles for a one-way flight from the Pacific to the Atlantic versus 30,000 or more on a competitor.

United Airlines

Overall, United Airlines tends not to be the best option when booking award flights as the redemption value can be slightly lower from 1.1 to 1.3 cents. In comparison, the other carriers consistently are closer to 1.4 cents on holiday flights.

Their ticket costs are competitive and can be the most affordable in several corridors. Unfortunately, their basic economy fares do not include a free carry-on. As a result, you might be better off paying cash if you fly United.

What Are The Best Airlines For Holiday Flights?

For the 2022 holiday season, these airlines tend to have the best ticket prices and flight selections:

  • American Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Southwest Airlines
  • United Airlines

It’s possible to redeem your reward miles for approximately 1.2 to 1.4 cents each during the holidays. If you don’t have enough points or prefer paying with cash, a one-way ticket costs from $150 to $300 for a fare from one coast to a midpoint like Chicago or Denver.

It’s still possible to pay under $400 for cross-country flights by booking at least a month before your flight.

Ultimately, the best airline to fly for a Thanksgiving or Christmas vacation depends on your route, as some regional airports may only be a hub for a particular carrier.

As early winter weather can be questionable, choosing the dominant airline for that airport can make it easier to rebook with minimal delay.

Simultaneously, avoid flying from or connecting through domestic mega airports notorious for travel delays and poor passenger experiences. Five of the worst airports, according to a 2022 study from JD Power, include:

  • Newark Liberty (EWR)
  • Chicago O’Hare (ORD)
  • Los Angeles International (LAX)
  • Boston Logan (BOS)
  • George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)

You may also try searching during the best time to book holiday flights.

Best Way To Pay For Holiday Flights

Finding the best fare price and flight itinerary is vital, but several other factors must be considered.

Pay With Points Or Miles?

Consider paying with airline miles or credit card points when the redemption value is at least one cent each, and you have a sufficient balance.

It’s also possible to pay with a combination of points and cash when you have a low points balance on many platforms. Ensure the point redemption value remains at or above the one-cent mark to get the best deal.

Use A Credit Card Booking Portal

Select credit cards offer a redemption bonus when booking award travel through their in-house booking site. In this situation, each point can be worth 1.25 cents or 1.5 cents each, and your points can be more valuable than booking directly from the airline.

Look At Transfer Bonuses

Travel loyalty programs may offer transfer bonuses to select airlines. One of the best programs is Marriott Bonvoy, as you can receive 5,000 bonus miles for every 60,000 Bonvoy points that you transfer at once to over 30 participating airlines.

Summary

Legacy airlines remain the best option for most domestic routes this holiday season as they have ample flight opportunities and valuable award flight prices. However, discount airlines can also be a good option for particular destinations if your travel dates are flexible.

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