2020 has been a weird year so it shouldn’t be a surprise that this is also a weird Thanksgiving travel season. On one hand, COVID-19 has dampened demand to fly to mean that fares are generally lower and more flexible than in previous years. On the other, services have been cut back so those that are running are likely to be busy. 

The busiest days, as ever, will be the days immediately before and after Thanksgiving celebrations – Wednesday November 25 outbound and returning on Sunday November 29. 

On several routes I tried via Google Flights (San Francisco to Atlanta, Dallas to New York and Seattle to Miami) the price pattern peaks on these dates. If you can travel a couple of days outside these dates you’ll pay less and should find lower crowds in airports and on planes. 

A large sign with "All Gates" written on it at an airport. Groups of people with luggage are lining up at desks in the concourse below the sign
How flexible can you be with your travel times? © narvikk / istock / Getty Images Plus

This presents a few possibilities. If these peak days are fixed dates for you, fly early or late to avoid the busiest services. Alternatively, avoid these dates entirely: take a few days either side to spend more time with loved ones or explore a different part of the US from where you may have been holed up for a few months. The final option, convince your hosts to delay celebrations, fly on Thanksgiving itself and you will, by default, miss the traveling crowds. Take an early flight and you can still make dinner. In fact, with the difference in fares you may even be happy to pay for dinner.

As an additional measure if you are concerned about crowds you may also choose to fly with an airline like Southwest or Alaska that has committed to leaving additional space onboard during the Thanksgiving travel period.

A train crossing a desert-like area
You could get more privacy on an Amtrak service © Kris Davidson / Lonely Planet

If price is not the major consideration then don’t forget you may not need to fly at all. Amtrak services offer private roomettes and larger bedrooms including in-room dining. Frequency has reduced to thrice weekly on long-distance routes, but remains a fantastic way to travel, with another person. Denver to Emeryville (for San Francisco and Oakland), for example, costs $624 each way for two passengers in a private roomette traveling either side of Thanksgiving. Services are timed to connect with other long-distance trains in Chicago. This is more expensive than business class airfares, but will keep you away from fellow passengers and serves up incredible views of the Rockies and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges.


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