The Best Days to Travel for the Holidays If You Are On a Budget

Best days to travel for Thanksgiving and Christmas

Table of Contents

Thanksgiving and Christmas are two of the most popular holidays for travelers in North America. With millions of people heading home to spend holidays with their families, fares can become very expensive quite fast, and traveling on a budget gets even harder than usual—not to mention this year’s inflation influencing everything from gas prices to holiday shopping. If you’re sticking to a budget, it’s important to know what days you should plan to travel for maximum savings.

That’s why we at Wanderu decided to dig into our travel data and find out when you will pay the least for a bus or train ticket for your holiday-related travels. All of the information featured below is based on pricing data from the top 500 most popular U.S. routes on Wanderu.

Read on to see how much you can save (spoiler alert: a lot) by planning your bus or train journey for the cheapest travel date.

Thanksgiving

This year, Thanksgiving falls on November 24, so we examined the period between Monday, November 21 and Sunday, November 27 to determine the best days to travel before and after the holiday.

Calendar view of November 2022, with colors indicating the cheapest days to travel by bus before and after Thanksgiving
Calendar view of November 2022, with colors indicating the cheapest days to travel by train before and after Thanksgiving

Least Expensive Day to Travel Before Thanksgiving

Bus tickets and train tickets are cheaper on Monday before Thanksgiving compared to Wednesday.

Whether you are taking the bus or train, you will be paying the most for a ticket if you travel on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. That’s when the majority of travelers will hit the road, and increased travel demand makes prices more expensive. 

However, heading out on Monday will end up saving you 12% if you travel by bus, or 33% if you travel by train.

You can also save a whopping 46% on train tickets if you choose to travel on Thanksgiving Day instead of Wednesday. Bonus: you get to skip cooking duties.

You can save 46% on train tickets by traveling on Thanksgiving Day instead of Wednesday.

Least Expensive Day to Travel Back After Thanksgiving

Bus tickets and train tickets are cheaper on Friday after Thanksgiving compared to Sunday.

For both bus and train travel, your best bet for cheap fares is heading back on Friday. A Friday bus ticket will cost about 17% less than a ticket for Sunday, and a Friday train ticket will cost about 41% less than if you head back on Sunday. 

You might have to miss out on those Black Friday deals but, on the flip side, you can use it as an excuse to leave early if spending time with your family is not your thing.

When to Book

Bus fares are expected to be the most expensive two weeks to one month prior to Thanksgiving. Therefore, if you know where you’ll be eating—we mean, celebrating—and you still haven’t booked your tickets, do it right now because prices are about to get higher.

Christmas

This year, Christmas Eve (December 24) and Christmas Day (December 25) fall on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. That’s why we examined the period between Friday, December 16 and Sunday, January 1 to find the best days to travel to your holiday destination and back.

Calendar view of December 2022, with colors indicating the cheapest days to travel by bus before and after Christmas
Calendar view of December 2022, with colors indicating the cheapest days to travel by train before and after Christmas

Least Expensive Day to Travel Before Christmas

Bus tickets are cheaper on Monday and Tuesday before Christmas compared to Friday, December 23.

Train tickets are cheaper on Tuesday before Christmas compared to Friday.

Looking at the trips available on Wanderu in the days leading up to Christmas, it appears to be cheapest to travel on a weekday before the holiday – Monday and Tuesday have cheaper fares than Friday or even Saturday (Christmas Eve). If you are able to take some time off and travel on Tuesday, you’ll be able to save 12% on your bus ticket, or 23% on your train ticket.

The most expensive days to head out for Christmas are Thursday (Dec 22) and Friday (Dec 21). Tickets are not much cheaper for the Sunday (Dec 18) before Christmas, either, so weekdays really are your best bet.

Least Expensive Day to Travel After Christmas

There doesn’t seem to be a perfect day for traveling back after Christmas when it comes to scoring a cheap bus ticket. Based on our data, average ticket prices do not change by more than about 5% among days in the period of December 26 to January 1. The best advice we can give is to book your bus trip as far in advance as possible, since you’ll pay pretty much the same price regardless of your travel date.

If you’re traveling by train, the cheapest days to travel are Thursday or Saturday after Christmas, compared to Monday.

It’s worth noting that the Saturday following Christmas is New Years Eve (Dec 31), but traveling on Saturday instead of Monday (Dec 26) would save you about 18% on the cost of your train ticket. You can enjoy a few extra days at home, and then nap on the train to prepare for NYE partying later that night.

Pricing Trends: 2021 vs. 2022

This holiday season, inflation is a bigger threat than any burnt turkey or rogue Grinch. We compared bus and train fares from 2021 to this year’s prices to see just how much more you’ll need to budget for holiday travel.

In general, we at Wanderu have noted that bus ticket prices seem to be more inflation-resistant than other travel expenses like flights or hotels. However, this trend does not hold for the holidays, and bus travelers will unfortunately see higher fares around Thanksgiving and Christmas. See the detailed price comparison between the least expensive travel dates in 2021 and 2022 below.

Thanksgiving

Our data showed us that Monday is the cheapest day to travel before Thanksgiving in 2022. However, bus tickets for that Monday will cost 23% more this year than they did for the Monday before Thanksgiving in 2021.

The change is even more drastic for train ticket prices. Even if you choose to travel on the cheapest day before Thanksgiving, train fares for that Monday are 67% more expensive this year than they were on the comparable Monday for last Thanksgiving.

Traveling on Thanksgiving Day looks even more appealing with this year-over-year analysis. Of the considered days (Mon-Sun), the travel date of Thursday saw the smallest percent difference between prices in 2021 and 2022. Taking the bus on Thanksgiving will only cost about 13% more than it did last year, and taking the train will cost 22% more.

Bus tickets on Monday before Thanksgiving cost 23% more than last year, on average.

Christmas

Since Christmas is on a different day of the week every year, we looked at trends for the seven days leading up to December 25th in 2021 and 2022 for a general idea of how ticket prices have changed.

If you’re traveling by bus before Christmas this year, you’ll pay about 13% more for a ticket than you would have last year.

Meanwhile, train tickets in the week leading up to Christmas will cost about 51% more than they did at the same time last year. 

We love the Polar Express vibes as much as anyone, but it might be worth choosing a bus instead of a train this year. Pro tip: you can compare prices and schedules for both buses and trains with just one search on Wanderu.

Train tickets for the week before Christmas cost 51% more than last year, on average.

Last-Minute Deals

Bus Tickets

If you are fine with taking a risk, you may actually luck out if you book your bus trip at the last moment. Some bus carriers tend to add more vehicles to their fleet at the last minute if there’s a surge in bookings.

When that happens, the tickets for the newly available bus start from the base price for the route and increase as more tickets get sold. As a result, if you are lucky enough, you can score a ticket as low as $5 or $10 at the very last minute depending on the route you’re traveling on.

Train Tickets

Booking your tickets as early as possible is the absolute best way to score cheap train tickets. Unlike bus carriers, Amtrak has a set fleet of trains for each route that it covers and they don’t normally add more cars at the last minute. They do add more cars or run additional trains around busier times of the year, like the major holidays. However, when they do that, they tend to announce it months in advance.

Also, unlike airfare, train tickets don’t often fluctuate based on what day of the week you book them. Once Amtrak makes their tickets available, they start off at a certain base price. For example, a regular service between Boston and New York usually starts from $31 and then the price increases the closer you get to the departure date and/or the more tickets get sold for a particular trip.

Average Fares for Most Popular Routes

There are multiple factors to consider when you are making the decision whether to take the bus or travel by train. However, if you are trying to stick to a budget, price is of the highest concern. That’s why we looked up the average bus and train fares for some of the most popular routes on Wanderu during the holiday season.

Popular Thanksgiving & Christmas Routes

Bus & train prices are based on the average cost of a one-way ticket for the respective route available on Wanderu in November and December, 2022.

On Wanderu, you can always find the cheapest available deals on bus and train travel. Either through our website or the Wanderu app, now is the time to book your trips for the holidays and score the best prices. Happy travels!

You are welcome to use the information on this page, crediting Wanderu. If you do so, please link back to this page, so that wanderers around the world can see how we did this study.

 

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About the author
Staffo Dobrev

Staffo Dobrev

Having lived in some of the greatest cities in the world, Staffo has always had a soft spot for travel and adventures. Instead of hitting the usual tourist attractions, though, Staffo prefers to make friends with local people and check out fun places and activities that are not in the travel books.