1. Everything about travel costs more during the holidays.
Holiday flight prices may rise due both to speculative pricing as well as simple supply and demand, this is not necessarily true across the entire spectrum of travel services.
For example, hotel pricing can be unexpectedly affordable during the holidays, as studies show that around 50 percent of holiday travelers stay with family. Add to this the fact that business travel is almost non-existent this time of year, and many hotels have to work hard to fill rooms. So while hotels at the most popular winter destinations can be scarce and expensive, there are also heaps of empty rooms on sale, and in the big picture lodging is very affordable. It helps to wait until the holidays are imminent to book; Hipmunk data indicates that hotel rates dropped $60/night for folks who booked their stays in December.
Europe can be a true bargain, as Europeans tend not to travel as widely as do Americans during the holidays. The same is often true of rental car outfits, especially during Thanksgiving, when the large majority (91 percent) of travelers takes trips in their own cars.
2. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the busiest air travel day of the year.
It does make sense; it is one of the few holidays each year that everyone in the country celebrates, that a large majority of people have off from work and that is closely associated with traveling to be with extended family.
However, it is not close to true. At best, Thanksgiving Eve might make the top 20 travel days even in a good year. According to airline experts, at least a dozen days during the summer routinely exceed the numbers moving around on Thanksgiving Eve. In 2006 and 2007 Thanksgiving Eve ranked 36th and 55th overall, respectively.
While the sheer number of flights may not be that high, there are often more delays during this time of year. About 31 percent of flights are delayed during the Christmas travel season, compared to 18 percent at Thanksgiving, with the main culprit being not passenger load but weather.
3. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the busiest car travel day, at least.
It is a busy day, but again this is not entirely true, or at least not anymore. The Thanksgiving Eve car commute is not really all that bad. This is due to the fact that 50% of people driving home for the holiday wait until Thursday morning to hit the road.
A note on the other winter holidays: While the Christmas and New Year's travel period involves a lot more people all told -- 140 million to Thanksgiving's 62 million -- it is spread over a much longer period of time, and as a result the specific daily loads tend not to be extraordinary.
4. New Year's Eve is the absolute worst day to drive.
Various public efforts and campaigns to reduce impaired driving on this holiday have been pretty successful, and folks are just wising up, whether due to exerting some common sense or merely the fear of getting pulled over.
In fact, the several days right before Christmas can be more dangerous -- from 1986 to 2002, December 23 was more dangerous than Jan. 1. With holiday parties and travel home combining with folks cramming roads making last-minute gift purchases, you can sometimes encounter harrowing road conditions.
5. All warm destinations will be overrun with vacationers.
This is the case for some but not all warm-weather destinations. There are a few factors that can make one location a lot more or less crowded than others.
First is proximity to a major airport. Let's look at Florida an obvious example, as many people consider this a major hot spot for winter tourism. The ranking of Florida airports by size goes roughly as follows: Miami, Orlando, Daytona Beach, Orlando Sanford, Fort Lauderdale. The 233 miles between the Orlando airport and the Miami airport (or even the 215 miles between Orlando and Fort Lauderdale) are as a result relatively much quieter than the areas closest to the airports.
Add to that another major consideration -- Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Port Canaveral (due east of Orlando) are the top three cruise ports in the world. It becomes easy to figure out that not all Florida beach destinations will be equally overrun with folks during the holidays. The beaches and towns away from these major ports can actually be quite sleepy during the holidays. This doesn't even take into consideration that the west coast of Florida is ramping up tourism infrastructure rapidly, but remains still relatively undiscovered.