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TravelFourth of July travel 2024: What to know

Fourth of July travel 2024: What to know


This summer is already off to a record-breaking start, and one of the season’s biggest travel periods is still upon us: Fourth of July just days away.

More than 70 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles over the Independence Day rush, according to AAA. That’s a 5% jump from last year and an 8% spike over 2019.

That will certainly mean busy airports, though that’s been the norm this summer anyway. Seven of the 10 busiest days ever at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints have occurred since Memorial Day weekend.

That includes the five busiest days ever at U.S. airports — with an all-time record on Sunday, June 23.

Expect these crowds throughout your holiday travels. Whether you’re visiting a theme park in Orlando or a popular site in Europe, you’ll likely find packed airport parking lots, busy security checkpoints and lots of tourists at attractions.

TSA checkpoint at Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU). SEAN CUDAHY/THE POINTS GUY

Yet, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic this summer holiday season, too.

Unlike 2022 and 2023, it’s a lot easier to find a good deal on airfare, and there are plenty of chances to score a great mileage redemption while you’re at it.

Plus, those meltdowns that made air travel such a headache in 2022 are largely behind airlines, with cancellation rates far better than this time two years ago.

Here’s what to know whether you’re still booking that Fourth of July getaway or already starting to turn your eyes to packing.

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What is the worst day to travel for Fourth of July?

Unlike Memorial Day, which always falls on the same day of the week, predicting the busiest travel day for Fourth of July is a bit trickier.

Last year, the holiday fell on a Tuesday, and the Friday before the Fourth (June 30) proved to be the busiest day of the rush. A whopping 2.8 million passengers passed through TSA checkpoints that day. At the time, that was a single-day record, but it has since been topped seven times — including twice just in the past week.

This year, Fourth of July falls on a Thursday.

Looking at the travel projections, I’m reminded a bit of the pattern we typically see around Thanksgiving, which, of course, always falls on a Thursday itself.

An American Airlines Boeing 777-200ER at Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU). SEAN CUDAHY/THE POINTS GUY

A busy weekend before the holiday

It looks like there will be a sizable early rush of travelers getting a headstart on their travels, perhaps turning the entire week into a getaway.

The world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), expects this Friday, June 28, to be among its busiest days of the travel rush. 367,000 passengers are expected to pass through ATL that day, airport leaders shared Monday.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL). ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

For its part, United Airlines predicts Saturday, June 29, will be among its busiest days in terms of volume.

Altogether, the carrier expects its busiest Fourth of July on record, with plans to fly more than 5 million customers between June 28 and July 8 — up 7% over last year.

July 3 final rush expected

Like Thanksgiving, the Wednesday immediately before the holiday is shaping up for a significant last-minute push, too.

Airlines have the most scheduled seats July 3, reports booking app Hopper.

Return crowds expected the Sunday, Monday after the holiday

Hopper, along with United and Atlanta airport leaders, expect large crowds returning from the holiday on Sunday, July 7, and Monday, July 8.

To complete our Thanksgiving analogy, keep this fact in mind: The Sunday after Turkey Day is often the busiest airport day of the entire travel rush. We could likely see a similar pattern play out next week following the Fourth of July.

How common is it for flights to be delayed or canceled?

For those worried about another air travel meltdown, rest assured: it’s been a relatively strong start to the summer — at least so far.

Since Memorial Day weekend, U.S. carriers have collectively canceled 1.4% of flights, according to data from FlightAware.

That’s a far cry from the 2.9% of flights that had been canceled at this point in 2022.

SEAN CUDAHY/THE POINTS GUY

However, cancellation rates have been a tad higher than they were at this point last summer, when U.S. carriers had canceled just 0.9% of flights, per FlightAware.

Delays

As for delays, U.S. airlines have seen just shy of a quarter of flights delayed so far this summer, at 24.2%, FlightAware shows.

That’s up slightly from both 2022 and 2023.

As the Federal Aviation Administration continues to deal with a nationwide shortage of air traffic controllers, weather is often the most complicating factor.

Summer thunderstorms — particularly in heavily trafficked corridors like the Northeast, mid-Atlantic or Florida — can cause cascading disruptions across the country. This is why you might run into a situation where your flight is delayed because of weather, even with blue skies outside.

That being said, the early results this summer are fairly encouraging overall.

As a precaution, though, read up on your rights as a passenger before you travel. Also, be sure to book your trip with a credit card that includes trip insurance protections; this can offset extra costs incurred for hotel nights, meals and ground transportation in the event of a disruption.

Are flight prices coming down?

Perhaps the best news for travelers so far this summer has been the far-more-available flight deals and redemption opportunities.

Though the holiday may bring elevated fares compared to the rest of summer for many itineraries, Hopper found average domestic airfare for the holiday is down around 18% from last year.

Hoping to score a flight to Europe? Those fares are down roughly 37%, Hopper projected.

As is often the case with major holidays, your best bet to snag a deal may be to depart on the holiday itself, and return a bit later than the crowds — perhaps on the Tuesday or Wednesday after the holiday, if your schedule allows.

Driving for Fourth of July

As always, the largest share of holiday travelers will be driving.

The afternoons of Wednesday, July 3, and Sunday, July 7, will be the most congested nationwide, according to transportation data and insights firm INRIX.

The good news: Current gas prices sit at $3.44 per gallon of regular. They are down from around $3.60 a month ago and around $3.57 one year ago.

Filling up on a Fourth of July getaway? Don’t forget to use a credit card that earns bonus rewards for gas.

Tips for Fourth of July travel 2024

STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Below are some steps you should take if you plan to travel this Fourth of July.

Use Google Flights to comparison shop

Search fares on numerous airlines at once with Google Flights. In a significant recent change, the site now also displays prices for Southwest Airlines — the fourth-largest carrier in the U.S.

Once you find the itinerary you like using the search engine, you can go and book it directly with the airline.

Book cancelable hotel reservations

Booking a hotel reservation that you can cancel penalty-free is often your best bet over the modest price savings you’ll find by prepaying.

But keeping your booking flexible is an especially good idea if you’re traveling to a major U.S. city. Hopper says hotel rates in major cities like New York and Las Vegas have been trending downward lately as check-in approaches.

Your best bet, in that case, is to book a standard room reservation. (In other words, don’t pre-pay.) That way, if the price later drops, you can cancel and rebook at the lower price point.

Same story with points

Since numerous hotel chains now use dynamic award pricing, which can fluctuate with cash prices, you should employ a similar strategy if you’re booking with points. Most loyalty programs will redeposit your points if you cancel an award stay. Then, you can rebook at the lower redemption rate if you find a lower points price after booking.

Book your airport parking online

Save money, time and stress by making those airport parking reservations in advance, instead of searching for a spot and paying full price on the day of.

Know your programs: TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, MPC, MyTSA

Global Entry and TSA PreCheck are your best friends when the airports are packed. If you aren’t a member of either program, you still have options to make your travel smoother.

Download the MyTSA app to monitor wait times at the security checkpoint you’ll be visiting.

If you’re returning from a trip abroad and don’t have Global Entry, you can still cut the longest lines by submitting your information to the free U.S. Customs and Border Protection Mobile Passport Control app.

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