If Memorial Day 2023 was any indication, travelers should brace for big Fourth of July crowds at airports. On the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened roughly 2.7 million people at U.S. airports, the highest checkpoint volume thus far in 2023.
And summer travel is only just getting started. In 2019, the Friday before Memorial Day was the third-busiest day at U.S. airports for the entire year, losing only to the Sunday after Thanksgiving and the Sunday after July Fourth. This may indicate that airports could be even busier around Independence Day than Memorial Day weekend.
Making Fourth of July travel predictions is tricky this year because the holiday falls midweek, on a Tuesday. Some folks may take Monday off to enjoy a long weekend, while others may save their vacation time for a different holiday.
With that in mind, here’s some guidance around booking July Fourth weekend air travel and how you might be able to avoid the crowds (and potentially save money on airfare).
The best and worst days to fly July Fourth weekend
TSA collects data daily to capture the number of passengers screened at its U.S. checkpoints. NerdWallet analyzed the past four years of this data for the seven days before and after July Fourth.
In each of the past four years, the Friday before July Fourth was the busiest travel day ahead of the Fourth of July weekend. If that trend continues this year, travelers should expect U.S. airports to be especially full on Friday, June 30.
Are airports busy on July Fourth? The data shows the holiday is the least busy day to fly, with airport crowds averaging just 81% of what they are relative to the busiest travel day.
Based on an average of the past four years, here are the worst days to travel around July Fourth weekend, ranked from most to least crowded.
- Friday before.
- Thursday before.
- Monday before.
- Sunday after.
- Monday after.
- Thursday after.
Instead, consider these options. Here’s what the data showed as the best days to travel over July Fourth, ranked from least to most crowded:
- Saturday before.
- Tuesday before.
- Sunday before.
- Saturday after.
- Friday after.
- Wednesday after.
The smarter, cheaper Fourth of July travel itinerary
Based on recent historical trends, most people will kick off their Fourth of July weekend as early as possible, jetting off on Friday, June 30 — or even ducking out of the workweek early by departing on Thursday, June 29. Most travelers will likely maximize their weekends, waiting until Sunday, July 9, to fly home.
But following typical July Fourth holiday travel patterns could mean costs in terms of airfare and time spent waiting in line at the airport. Deviate from that schedule to find lighter crowds and perhaps better July Fourth flight deals, too.
Try these travel days instead:
Embrace Saturday travel: Rather than rush out from work on Friday afternoon to jump on a flight, relax at home that evening and depart Saturday morning instead. Simply shifting your trip by one day could likely result in going from one of the busiest to lightest travel days of the July Fourth travel period.
The same goes for traveling back home. While it can be tempting to extend your trip as long as possible before work starts on Monday, skip the Sunday flight and fly home on Saturday instead. Bonus: You’ll give yourself a day at home to rest and recover before you hit the next workweek (how responsible of you).
Fly on July Fourth: If you don’t mind traveling on the holiday, you’re looking at the single emptiest air travel day of the period.
Do one better by flying out early on the holiday. Travel booking app Hopper’s spring 2023 Flight Disruption Outlook found that flights that depart from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. are half as likely to be delayed versus flights with scheduled departure times after 9 a.m.
Plus, a morning flight improves your odds of catching the fireworks at your final destination.
Fly on Wednesday, July 5: Will July 5 be a busy travel day in 2023? Likely no. This year, July 5 falls on a Wednesday, one of the cheapest days to fly year-round. Plus, according to TSA’s data, July 5 has been a consistently light travel day. In 2019, July 5 was the lightest travel day for the week after the holiday (July 5 fell on a Friday that year).
Moreover, for U.S. domestic economy tickets in 2022, Wednesdays were about 22% lower than peak prices on Sundays, according to a NerdWallet analysis of Hopper data.
July Fourth travelers in 2023 can feel confident that a July 5 flight itinerary will afford them cheaper airfare plus less congested airport queues.
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