Most popular cities for the holidays

Just in time for the holidays – which cities have the biggest holiday crush of travelers?

Here are the 100 U.S. cities which show the largest increase in air traveler over the two winter holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year (aka the Winter Holidays).

Now, we didn’t just look at raw numbers.  The obvious list would just be the cities with the largest populations.  Rather, these are the airline destinations ranked by the percent of their air travelers which list the city as their destination which occur during the holidays, as compared to their total annual incoming flights.

Click here for the full list of over 300 cities.

holiday travel  rank
Destination city Thanksgiving rank Christmas / New Year rank
1 Fort Myers, FL 4 1
2 Cincinnati, OH 1 3
3 Miami, FL 2 5
4 Hartford, CT 3 7
5 Fort Lauderdale, FL 7 6
6 West Palm Beach/Palm Beach, FL 10 4
7 Jacksonville, FL 9 8
8 Milwaukee, WI 6 14
9 Greensboro/High Point, NC 5 16
10 Palm Springs, CA 8 22
11 Columbus, OH 12 20
12 Richmond, VA 16 11
13 Charlotte, NC 15 17
14 Tampa, FL 19 12
15 Orlando, FL 17 19
16 New Orleans, LA 11 29
17 Pittsburgh, PA 13 24
18 Kahului, HI 20 15
19 St. Louis, MO 14 31
20 San Juan, PR 94 2

Some interesting things appear in our list.
The large number of warm-weather destinations in the top spots could point to people wanting to find some sunshine in the midst of winter’s cold and rain.  But I think the the holidays are more about getting reunited with family (especially Thanksgiving), so it likely points to visiting elderly parents who have retired to a sunny state.  But I believe that trips to Hawaii and maybe Palm Springs would probably be for vacations.

And then you have popular destinations like Cincinnati, Hartford, Milwaukie, Greensboro (NC) and Columbus (OH) which are most likely spots where people want be with their families.

At #20 on our list, there is San Juan, Puerto Rico, which shows something noteworthy – it’s ranked #2 for Christmas/New Year and #94 (out of 100) for Thanksgiving holiday travel. Is there a cultural reason for this disparity?

In spot #25 overall, Rochester, NY is much the same – it’s ranked #9 for Christmas/New Year travel and #55 for Thanksgiving.  The upstate cities of Rochester, Buffalo, and Syracuse provide good proxies for each other and we can often expect similar trends in each.  But in this case, Buffalo and Syracuse don’t exhibit the same tendancy.


Click here for a link to the entire rankings for 300+ cities.

We compared the number of flights arriving in each city before or on the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday (aka the “Winter Holiday”), with the number of flights destined for that city during the entire year.  The cities with the highest percentage of incoming flights in the days before the holiday were the cities with the most people traveling to it for the holidays.
By using a ratio of holiday flights to total annual flights, we were to control for the size of the total cities’ air traffic.

Analyzing the TranStats “On-time Performance” database from theBureau of Transportation Statistics, we analyzed the data for all airline flights in the United States during 2010, which included nearly 7.5 million flights.

Using the field for “Destination City”, we counted only those flights which ended at a particular city.  If we had counted all “Arriving Flights”, we would also count those flights which were primarily connecting with other flights, and overcount the flights for those airports which are major connecting hubs.

We queried the data for the dates of the holiday period, from the start through the of the actual holiday.  We used the dates of each holiday period, as defined by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.



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