Travel Tip of the Week: Avoid Amateur Day at All Costs

Baseball Hall of Famer Wee Willie Keeler is possibly best known for his advice to batters, “hit ’em where they ain’t.”

If he wasn’t one of the best hitters of all time, and likely the creator of the hit and run — and of course if he had been active a hundred years later — that advice could have made him a travel writer.

Coming up on the holiday season we’re approaching peak amateur days.

Among those peak days:

  • The Wednesday before Thanksgiving
  • The Sunday and the Monday after Thanksgiving
  • December 23 (the business day before Christmas)
  • December 28 (the Sunday after Christmas)

I’ve made a habit of leaving the country rather than traveling domestically at these peak times. A couple of times in recent years I’ve gone to India in November (I like having Thanksgiving dinner with Indians).

What I don’t like is a system running at total capacity. There’s no margin for error. A bit of bad weather, or a mechanical, and there are simply no flights to get on. And I don’t like lines, especially at security, and especially now that the TSA gives PreCheck to anyone it can discern in advance doesn’t practice Islam.

Boarding is a mess, as passengers without elite status try to avoid checked bag fees by carrying on their turkey and their presents. Everything takes longer, and it’s more stressful.

Airports are plenty busy at peak travel times, but it’s like a freeway — much more important for safety than the speed limit is that everyone is driving at a uniform speed. There’s too much variance in speed over the holidays, and especially on amateur days.

On the other hand, there’s almost no business travel over the holidays, so upgrades are easier… Hmm, maybe I should rethink my strategy to avoid domestic holiday travel after all!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary,
    I commend you on a very timely article. Just so you know I am travelling right smack on amateur’s day this thanksgiving. The only word of advice I can give is if you plan to book right on these days is to book your mileage tickets 7 months out at least to get the mileage slots.
    I did this with my son on a united mileage on coach and I and my wife will be travelling on southwest award tickets which I got as soon as the airline’s calendar was published online. I remember it very well as I was flying out of London to Manila and I had some time at the lounge in Heathrow. The dissappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight was still fresh in my mind and my Philippine Airline carrier was sharing the lounge with no less than Malaysian airlines.
    My wife travels free with me on Southwest on a companion priviledge and I scrambled to get the bookings done for 6 people online before my flight to London took off.
    Since then the prices have doubled or tripled on my same flights.

  2. If I was attempting to travel this Thanksgiving, I would be volunteering to give up my seat. This is the best time to collect those vouchers…Also, a really good time to do a weekend trip to London. Flights aren’t busy, Christmas decorations,etc. are out in London. Even hotels are less expensive. But that damn British APD tax and fuel surcharges make London, not as cheap as it used to be….

  3. Re JohnB’s comment: when you put a tax on something, people do less of it. While the UK thinks they’re collecting lots in taxes…and indeed many with business there have no choice…but how many leisure pax (and all of their spending on the ground) have they scared away?

    Without knowing JohnB’s political affiliation, it is funny to see left-leaning folks here talk about increasing taxes on “the rich” while then refusing to fly to London over this tax. Didn’t M. Thatcher have a saying about spending others’ money? 😉

  4. Domestic travel ON Thanksgiving Day is great. I have done it many times. Flights are lightly booked, security is empty, and most amazingly all employees seem to be in a good mood….maybe due to overtime pay??? I once even got into the Continental Presidents Club w/o proper credentials, “just because its the holiday and I’m feeling benevolent”!

    The one problem is airport parking….it is all jam packed from everyone leaving the day before. I use my PreFlight Parking “trump”card…guaranteed parking at full lots with membership to their frequent parker club.

  5. Nice post. Great points. If I’m look to travel around Thanksgiving or Christmas on awards or other leisure (non business non relatives) travel I look to book flights on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day. Most people don’t fly on those days which helps I think.

  6. You know, I fly every year for T-Day weekend, out on Wednesday and back Sunday or Monday. And while it is worse than an average weekend, it’s really not that bad. Lines are a bit longer, but pre-check or preferred lines mitigate that. I make sure to board early. Yes, the planes are full, but they’re like that most of my flights anyway. You need a little more time and a little more patience, maybe, but it’s not significant enough that I would change plans to avoid those days.

    (The flights are expensive, but that’s a different issue.)

  7. @Michael Que: Generally, it’s a myth that award tickets are somehow easier to come by if you book far in advance. It may have worked that way some decades ago, but not now. Along with revenue tickets, award tickets get allocated according to the airline’s yield management algorithms.

    But I DO understand that, if you’re booking award tix for more than one person, you are concerned that you won’t score enough of them unless you start looking way in advance. In that regard, your strategy may make sense. But, booking just for myself, I’ve often been successful just a few weeks (or even less) ahead of flight date — both for domestic & international flights.

  8. Here’s a tip you’d never consider to avoid the risks associated with “amateur days” – stay put at home. I know, weird concept, but works every time.

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