Last year, about 50 million Americans travel over the Thanksgiving holiday, according to the American Automobile Association, making it the busiest travel season of the year. In 2017, it was estimated that an all-time high number of 28.5 million passengers chose to fly between Friday, November 17, and Tuesday, November 28, according to industry trade organization Airlines for America.

Travel statistics like that may give some cost-conscious consumers pause as they consider their options for holiday transportation, since increased demand can limit availability and drive up prices for airline and car travelers. But, there are a few things to consider before deciding if flying or driving is the best way for you to get to your holiday destination.

Consider Your Options

First, to the main question of whether you should fly or drive, you probably already know that driving is usually the cheaper option for Thanksgiving travel — especially given the fees associated with flying that add up: baggage fees, airport transportation, etc., plus the cost of airline tickets for each passenger in your party.

Your primary concern may be cost, but also take into account the amount of time you’ll spend driving — plus the amount of wear and tear on both you and your vehicle. To help you calculate your Thanksgiving travel costs and decide the right option for you, you can plug your information into online calculators like this one from and see the costs associated with each method of transportation.

Make the Most of Flying

  • Don’t wait to buy your tickets.If you haven’t already purchased your tickets, now is the time to do it — every day that you wait, the more likely you are to see spikes in ticket prices, so don’t delay on your purchase. The ideal time to purchase tickets is approximately eight weeks in advance, according to USA Today. Check prices at a few of the many airfare comparison websites and apps, and don’t forget to check discount airlines that may not appear on aggregator sites.
  • Fly on the less busy days.The Wednesday before through the Sunday after Thanksgiving are the heaviest day for air traffic, says com. Try to arrange your schedule so that you can fly out and back on the less traveled days — which may include Thanksgiving Day and the Monday after the holiday. The aggregator sites may be able to help you visualize your savings if you can fly a day or two earlier or later.
  • Consider using rewards.While you might be able to redeem some of your accrued miles through your credit card, like a Discover it® Miles card or your frequent flier account to take a bite out of your flight cost, Sarah Hollenbeck, shopping and savings expert at com, warns that travelers may want to wait and use the rewards during a less costly travel season to maximize their value. “Check the cash cost of the flight and look at the number of miles the airline wants you to redeem for that flight,” she says. “If you’re getting a value of less than one cent per point and if you can afford to just pay for the flight in cash, pay the money, earn some rewards on the flight and use your rewards for a flight that’s a better value down the line.”
  • Read the fine print.Particularly if you’ve opted to fly a discount airline, be sure to read through all the terms and conditions before booking your ticket. com suggests that travelers look for hidden charges for things like carry-on bags, reservation changes, booking on the phone vs. online, in-flight wi-fi, selecting a specific seat, pillows and blankets, and redeeming frequent-flyer points.

Make Your Drive as Efficient as Possible

  • Maximize your savings at the pump.If you’re driving, take some time before your trip to analyze the credit cards that will help you earn the most cash back rewards while fueling up — on long-haul trips, those rewards can add up to significant savings. For example, the Discover it® Miles card allows cardmembers to earn 1.5 Miles on every dollar spent on purchases – which can be redeemed as a statement credit for recent travel purchases, including hotels, airlines and rental car services. Discover it® Miles also allows cardmembers to redeem their miles with no blackout dates and no expiration on rewards.
  • Schedule a car check-up.You may be able to maximize your fuel efficiency (and savings) by taking your car in for a check-up before your trip. According to CNN, holiday drivers can help maximize their vehicle’s fuel efficiency with regular maintenance tasks like making sure your tires are properly inflated and keeping your car tuned up, as well as simple techniques including driving smoothly, braking less and removing excess weight (items in the trunk, roof racks, etc.).
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  • Use GPS.Chances are, if you’re driving across the country during this busy travel time, you’ll encounter some traffic back-ups. Make sure to utilize GPS routing, either on your mobile device or a separate GPS unit to help you navigate around traffic jams and road construction.
  • Get the best deal on your hotel stay.If your Thanksgiving trip includes a night or two at a hotel, research ahead of time and see if there are any special rewards promotions, either through your credit card or the hotel chain’s loyalty program. “For example, a program may give you an extra 5,000 points if you stay three nights, or it might double the points you earn if you stay on certain dates,” says Hollenbeck. “You generally have to sign up for these promos, but if you take the extra five minutes, you can multiply the points you earn on your stay.”

Originally published November 15, 2017

Updated September 24, 2018

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