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To help travelers prepare for holiday trips, Forbes Advisor analyzed federal transportation data to determine which airports and airlines are the best and worst for holiday travel.
The nation’s 100 busiest airports and eight of its largest national airlines were scored on key metrics, including customer complaints, flight delays and cancellations, mishandled baggage, recent increases in ticket costs, and more.
And while even the best travel insurance can’t prevent bah-humbug bummers from happening, the financial protection you get from a comprehensive travel insurance policy can help keep your spirits merry and bright if your travel plans go south.
- Westchester County Airport (HPN) earned the top spot on the list of worst airports for holiday travel, followed by Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC) and McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS).
- Long Beach Airport (LGB) is the best airport for holiday travel, followed by Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole (KOA) and Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC).
- Six of the top 10 best airports for holiday travel are located in California, including Long Beach Airport (LGB), Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC), Sacramento International Airport (SMF), Oakland International Airport (OAK), Ontario International Airport (ONT) and Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR).
- JetBlue Airways was the worst airline for holiday travel while Alaska Airlines ranked as the best.
Top 5 Worst Airports For Holiday Travel
Airports in New York, Alaska and Tennessee topped the list of Grinchy airports for peak holiday travel time, while California and Hawaii are home to airports that are best for holiday travelers, based on our analysis.
1. Westchester County Airport (HPN) – White Plains, New York
Westchester County Airport’s score: 100 out of 100
- With the highest rate of air carrier delays (8.54%) and diverted flights (0.80%) among the 100 busiest airports, Westchester County Airport is the worst airport for holiday travel.
- HPN also reported the third-highest percent of aircraft arriving late, on average, across the five years we considered (7.55%) and the fourth-highest percent of canceled flights (2.63%).
- Westchester County Airport had the fifth-highest dollar increase in airfare price between the summer months and the holiday season ($30.49) and the third-lowest percent of on-time flights on average (75.43%).
2. Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC) – Anchorage, Alaska
Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport’s score: 86.13 out of 100
- Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport ranks highest for both average airfare price between October and December ($531.87) and average dollar increase in airfare between the summer months and the holiday season ($77.45).
- ANC had the second-highest percent increase in airfare pricing between the summer months (July to September) and the holiday season (October to December) at 17.02%.
- Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport ranked sixth-highest for percent of flights canceled (2.54%).
3. McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) – Knoxville, Tennessee
McGhee Tyson Airport’s score: 82.41 out of 100
- McGhee Tyson Airport reported the seventh-highest percentage of aircraft arriving late (6.42%).
- TYS airfare pricing between October and December is also sixth-highest among the 100 busiest airports ($446.55).
- McGhee Tyson Airport has the eighth-highest percent of diverted flights on average (0.31%) and tied with Spokane International Airport for the ninth-highest percent of weather delays on average (0.80%).
4. Bozeman Yellowstone International (BZN) – Bozeman, Montana
Bozeman Yellowstone International’s score: 78.79 out of 100
- Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport has the second highest percent of diverted flights out of the 100 busiest airports (0.79% on average).
- BZN also ranked third-highest on our list for several categories, including: percent of weather delays (0.94% on average), average airfare price between October and December ($465.40), dollar increase in airfare ahead of the holiday season ($43) and percent increase in airfare ahead of the holiday season (10.61%).
5. The Eastern Iowa Airport (CID) – Cedar Rapids/Iowa City, Iowa
The Eastern Iowa Airport’s score: 77.69 out of 100
- The Eastern Iowa Airport had an average airfare price of $436.27 for flights between October and December, the 10th-highest amount among the 100 busiest airports.
- CID also has the fourth-highest percentage of weather delays on average (0.92%).
Top 5 Best Airports For Holiday Travel
1. Long Beach Airport (LGB) – Long Beach, California
Long Beach Airport’s score: 0 out of 100
- Long Beach Airport boasted the third-lowest average airfare between the months of October and December ($259.47).
- LGB had the fifth-lowest percent of flight cancellations on average (0.82%) and the airport tied with Metropolitan Oakland International Airport for the fifth-lowest percent of flight delays caused by the national aviation system (2.45%).
- On average, Long Beach Airport’s airfare prices increased by only 0.25% between Q3 (July to September) and Q4 (October to December), the eighth-lowest amount among the 100 busiest airports. This is an increase of only 16 cents, the ninth-lowest dollar increase in airfare among the 100 busiest airports.
2. Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole (KOA) – Kona, Hawaii
Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole’s score: 6.73 out of 100
- Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole has the highest percent of on-time flights (88.89%) and the lowest percent of flight cancellations (0.49%) out of the 100 busiest airports.
- KOA also ranked ninth lowest for air carrier delays (4.53%) and average airfare between October and December ($311.53).
3. Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) – San Jose, California
Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport’s score: 11.26 out of 100
- Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport had the eighth-highest percent of on-time flights nationwide (85.30%) and the tenth-lowest percent of flight delays caused by the national aviation system (2.56%).
4. Sacramento International Airport (SMF) – Sacramento, California
Sacramento International Airport’s score: 13.77 out of 100
- Sacramento International Airport had the second-lowest percent of national aviation system delays among the 100 busiest airports (2.30%).
- SMF also tied with Miami International Airport for the tenth-lowest percent of canceled flights (0.94% on average).
5. Oakland International Airport (OAK) – Oakland, California
Oakland International Airport’s score: 15.28 out of 100
- Oakland International Airport tied with Long Beach Airport for the fifth lowest percent of national aviation system delays (2.45%).
- OAK also had the thirteenth highest percent of on-time flights on average (84.75%) and the thirteenth-lowest average airfare between October and December ($319.38).
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The Top 3 Worst Airlines For Holiday Travel
It may not be the most wonderful time of the year if you’re traveling on JetBlue to your holiday destination, based on our analysis. A flight on Alaska Airlines, however, just might make you channel your inner Frosty the Snowman and feel like a jolly, happy soul.
1. JetBlue Airways
JetBlue Airways’ score: 100 out of 100
- With the lowest percent of on-time flights among national airlines (69.61%) and the highest percent of air carrier delays (8.25%), JetBlue Airways tops the list of the worst airlines for holiday travel.
- JetBlue had the second highest percent of late arriving aircraft delays among the national air carriers on our list (5.92%) and the third highest percent of flight cancellations (1.73%).
- JetBlue also ranked third highest on our list for diverted flights (0.22%) and national aviation system delays (6.35%).
2. SkyWest Airlines
SkyWest Airlines’ score: 77.55 out of 100
SkyWest is the largest regional airline in North America. It is contracted by Alaska Airlines (as Alaska SkyWest), American Airlines (as American Eagle), Delta Air Lines (as Delta Connection), and United Airlines (as United Express).
- SkyWest Airlines had the highest percentage of flight cancellations (2.12%), flight diversions (0.31%) and extreme weather delays (1.22%) among the national airlines on our list.
- SkyWest also had the second-highest percentage of air carrier delays (6.63%) and the third-highest number of mishandled bags (7.27 mishandled bags per 1,000 suitcases).
3. Spirit Airlines
Spirit Airlines’ score: 71.43 out of 100
- Spirit Airlines had an average of 104 customer complaints during the holiday travel season (November through January) for the five years that we analyzed, ranking third highest for this metric.
- Spirit also reported the highest percentage of national aviation system delays among the major air carriers on our list (6.82%).
Travel Insurance Tips For Stress-Free Holiday Travel
As you plan your holiday getaway, consider treating yourself to a present—a travel insurance policy. Here are some holiday travel insurance tips on the coverage that’s generally included in comprehensive travel insurance policies.
Travel delay insurance
You don’t have the benefit of Rudolph to guide the way if snowstorms threaten to delay your flight or cause you to miss a connection. But travel delay insurance benefits can cover the cost of meals, a hotel stay and other expenses associated with a delay that’s covered by your travel insurance policy. These benefits kick in after a specified delay time, such as six hours..
In addition to problems due to weather, trip delay insurance also generally applies to delays due to airplane mechanical issues and other unforeseen events.
Missed connection travel insurance
Missed connection insurance can reimburse you for additional transportation expenses you pay to catch up to your trip because you miss a connection due to a problem covered by your policy. It also can compensate you for pre-paid travel expenses you lose because you arrive late to your destination. Missed connection coverage can help you in certain situations—but not all—so be sure to review your travel insurance policy so there’s no surprises about what’s covered and what isn’t.
Having to cancel a trip is the vacation version of getting a lump of coal in your stocking. Trip cancellation insurance can help you recoup your money if you have to back out due to a problem listed in your policy, such as illness or injury. Trip cancellation benefits reimburse you 100% for the pre-paid, non-refundable trip costs that you lost.
To boost your trip cancellation protection, consider buying a “cancel for any reason” (CFAR) upgrade, which is available with many policies. With this in your back pocket you can cancel your trip for a reason not listed in your policy and still receive some reimbursement.
The best “cancel for any reason” travel insurance plans will reimburse 75% of the money you lose.For example, you could make a CFAR claim because you’re not happy that it’s going to be rainy at your destination.
Adding a CFAR upgrade will generally add about 50% to your travel insurance costs but could really pay off if you don’t want to go on your trip for a reason that’s not listed in the base policy.
Trip interruption coverage
If an emergency causes you to cut your trip short and return home, trip interruption insurance can pay for a flight home and transportation to the airport. Travel interruption insurance also compensates you for pre-paid, non-refundable trip costs for the unused portion of your trip.
Medical expense travel insurance
If you’re traveling overseas for a holiday vacation, travel medical insurance provides important benefits. A U.S. health insurance plan could provide no or very limited coverage outside the country. Travel medical insurance fills this gap by paying for emergency medical services if you have an unexpected injury or illness, up to the policy limits.
If baggage and personal items are lost, damaged or stolen, baggage insurance can reimburse the depreciated value, up to the limits in your policy. If your luggage is delayed by a specified amount of time outlined in your policy—such as six hours—baggage delay benefits provide reimbursement for necessities you buy to tide you over.
Travel insurance that covers Covid
Getting Covid right before your trip or during your travels is an unhappy possibility. Fortunately the best Covid travel insurance plans will cover money you lose because you have to cancel a trip or the medical expenses you incur if you get sick during your trip.
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Airport ranking methodology
To determine which airports are best and worst for holiday travel, Forbes Advisor examined data for the 100 busiest airports across the U.S. based on the total number of domestic passengers in 2021. Specifically, we compared airports across the following 10 metrics:
- Average airfare cost in Q4 (October to December): 15% of score. This metric includes one-way and round-trip domestic flights.
- Percent of national aviation system delays: 15% of score.
- Percent of air carrier delays: 10% of score.
- Percent of aircraft that arrived late: 10% of score.
- Percent of canceled flights: 10% of score.
- Percent of diverted flights: 10% of score.
- Percent of flights that arrived on-time: 10% of score.
- Percent of weather delays: 10% of score.
- Average dollar change in airfare price between Q3 (July – September) and Q4 (October – December): 5% of score.
- Average percent change in airfare price between Q3 (July – September) and Q4 (October – December): 5% of score.
Data comes from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics TranStats database. For each scoring factor, we calculated a five-year average, using data from 2017 to 2021. For all airport-performance related metrics we only included data for the holiday travel season (November through January).
Airline ranking methodology
To uncover the best and worst airlines for holiday travel, Forbes Advisor analyzed data for the eight largest national airlines with available data across the following nine metrics:
Number of bags mishandled per 1,000 enplaned: 20% of score.
- Percent of air carrier delays: 20% of score.
- Total customer complaints: 20% of score.
- Percent of canceled flights: 10% of score.
- Percent of on-time flights: 10% of score.
- Percent of diverted flights: 5% of score.
- Percent of extreme weather delays: 5% of score.
- Percent of late arriving aircraft delays: 5% of score.
- Percent of national aviation system delays: 5% of score.
Data comes from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics Air Travel Consumer Reports. For each scoring factor, we took a five-year average, using data from 2017 to 2021 for the holiday travel season (November through January).