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The Worst Cities for Holiday Travel, Ranked – Forbes Advisor

by Staff

Editorial Note: We earn a commission from partner links on Forbes Advisor. Commissions do not affect our editors’ opinions or evaluations.

From flight delays and cancellations to dangerous driving conditions, holiday travelers face a variety of potential complications, especially if you’re traveling on the busiest travel day of the year (typically the Sunday after Thanksgiving).

Historically, visitors to certain cities have faced a greater risk of air travel disruptions, traffic congestion, car accidents and inflated hotel prices during the holiday season.

Nearly half of Americans (48%) are planning to travel between Thanksgiving and mid-January, according to Deloitte’s 2023 holiday travel survey. With that in mind, Forbes Advisor set out to uncover the worst cities for holiday travel.

To determine which cities are worst for holiday travel, we compared the 42 most populated cities with available data across 14 metrics spanning three key categories: driving experience, city experience and air travel experience.

Key Takeaways

  • Memphis tops the list of worst cities for holiday travel, while Minneapolis ranks as the best city for holiday travel.
  • Three Florida cities rank among the top 15 worst cities for holiday travel: Jacksonville, Miami and Tampa.
  • Three Texas cities rank among the top 15 best cities for holiday travel: El Paso, Austin and Houston.
  • During the holiday season, visitors to New York City tend to have the worst air travel experience, visitors to Los Angeles typically have the worst driving experience and visitors to Memphis face the worst city experience.

Top 10 Worst Cities For Holiday Travel

1. Memphis

Memphis’ score: 100 out of 100

Memphis is not a great place to travel during Christmas, based on our analysis. It ranks worst overall in our city experience category.

Memphis stands out as the city with the:

  • Highest crime rate (80.5 crimes per 1,000 residents).
  • Second fewest restaurants with four or more stars on Tripadvisor (543).
  • Fifth worst transit score (22.2).
  • Seventh fewest tourist attractions with three or more stars on Tripadvisor (280).
  • Eighth worst Walk Score (35).

Memphis is also a dangerous city for drivers during the holiday season. It has the fourth highest number of people involved in fatal crashes between November and January (12.98 per 100,000 city residents).

Additionally, Memphis had the ninth highest number of weather-related car accidents in November, December and January (163) between 2017 and 2021.

2. Los Angeles

Los Angeles’ score: 77.97 out of 100

Los Angeles ranks worst overall in our driving experience category.

A holiday road trip to L.A. may not be much fun. Los Angeles stands out as the city with the:

  • Highest number of weather-related car accidents in November, December and January between 2017 and 2021 (376).
  • Second highest average gas price ($5.40 per gallon of regular gasoline, tied with San Francisco).
  • Seventh highest number of hours lost in traffic congestion per year (95).

The City of Angels also ranked ninth worst in our air travel experience category.

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) had the third highest number of property loss and damage claims during the holiday season (1.49 claims per 100,000 domestic passengers) between 2013 and 2022.

LAX also ranked fifth worst for property loss and damage claim reimbursement (just 20.04% of claims were fully reimbursed).

Additionally, those who visit Los Angeles for the holidays can expect to pay the second highest price for a four-night hotel stay ($1,141.33), among the cities we evaluated.

3. Jacksonville, Florida

Jacksonville’s score: 76.60 out of 100

With the worst Walk Score (25.6) and the third worst transit score (20.8), the River City ranks third among the worst cities for holiday travel.

Jacksonville stands out as the city with the:

  • Seventh highest number of people involved in fatal crashes between November and January (11 per 100,000 city residents).
  • Seventh highest number of weather-related car accidents in November, December and January (192).
  • Eighth fewest restaurants with four or more stars on Tripadvisor (744).

4. New York City

New York City’s score: 76.09 out of 100

With the highest average hotel price for a four-night stay during the holiday season ($1,316.33), New York City ranks fourth among the worst cities for holiday travel.

New York City also has some of the worst U.S. airports for holiday trips. It ranks worst overall in our air travel experience category.

If Thanksgiving flight delays are a major concern for you, New York City should not be among your top destinations. New York City’s two major airports (John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport) combined stand out as the airports with the:

  • Second highest percentage of flights delayed, canceled or diverted during the holiday season between 2018 and 2022 (23.32%).
  • Second highest number of property loss and damage claims during the holiday season (2.13 claims per 100,000 domestic passengers) between 2013 and 2022.

Additionally, New York City ranks seventh worst in our driving experience category.

The Big Apple stands out as the city with the:

  • Third highest number of hours lost in traffic congestion per year (117).
  • Fourth slowest average speed in rush hour traffic (22 mph, tied with Washington, D.C.).
  • Fourth highest number of weather-related car accidents in November, December and January (266).

5. Tucson, Arizona

Tucson’s score: 75.57 out of 100

Tucson ranks third worst in our driving experience category.

Tucson stands out as the city with the:

  • 10th highest number of people involved in fatal crashes between November and January (10.36 per 100,000 city residents).
  • 11th highest number of weather-related car accidents in November, December and January between 2017 and 2021 (132).
  • 12th highest average gas price ($3.77 per gallon of regular gasoline).

Additionally, Tucson International Airport (TUS) had the 10th highest number of property loss and damage claims during the holiday season (1.01 claims per 100,000 domestic passengers) between 2013 and 2022.

Tucson also has the 11th fewest restaurants with four or more stars on Tripadvisor (812).

6. Oklahoma City

Oklahoma City’s score: 74.98 out of 100

Oklahoma City ranks fifth worst in our category assessing air travel experience due, in part, to the city’s major airport (Will Rogers World Airport) having the sixth highest percentage of flights delayed, canceled or diverted during the holiday season between 2018 and 2022 (20.93%).

Oklahoma City also ranked 10th worst in our category assessing city experience.

Oklahoma City stands out as the city with the:

  • Worst transit score (16.9).
  • Fourth fewest tourist attractions with three or more stars on Tripadvisor (238).
  • Sixth worst Walk Score (34.1).

7. Miami

Miami’s score: 71.29 out of 100

Miami ranks third worst in our category assessing air travel experience due, in part, to Miami International Airport having the highest number of property loss and damage claims during the holiday season (2.16 claims per 100,000 domestic passengers) between 2013 and 2022.

Miami also stands out as the city with the:

  • Fifth highest number of hours lost in traffic congestion per year (105).
  • Ninth slowest average speed in rush hour traffic (25 mph).
  • Ninth highest average hotel price for a four-night stay during the holiday season ($938.17).

8. Indianapolis

Indianapolis’ score: 66.10 out of 100

Indianapolis ranks 16th worst in our category assessing city experience.

Indianapolis stands out as the city with the:

  • Fourth worst Walk Score (31).
  • Eighth worst transit score (24.9).
  • 15th fewest tourist attractions with three or more stars on Tripadvisor (344).

Indianapolis is also a dangerous city for drivers during the holiday season. The city had the 15th highest number of weather-related car accidents (120) in November, December and January between 2017 and 2021.

9. Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs’ score: 65.46 out of 100

Colorado Springs ranked fifth worst in our category assessing city experience.

Colorado Springs stands out as the city with the:

  • Second worst transit score (18.8).
  • Fifth fewest restaurants with four or more stars on Tripadvisor (634).
  • 10th worst Walk Score (36.1).
  • 10th highest average hotel price for a four-night stay during the holiday season ($886).

Colorado Springs also ranked seventh worst in our category assessing air travel experience, due, in part, to Colorado Springs Airport (COS) having the third highest percentage of flights delayed, canceled or diverted during the holiday season between 2018 and 2022 (22.03%).

10. San Antonio

San Antonio’s score: 65.33 out of 100

The Alamo City ranks sixth worst in our category assessing air travel experience.

San Antonio International Airport (SAT) stands out as the airport with the:

  • Ninth highest number of property loss and damage claims during the holiday season (1.02 claims per 100,000 domestic passengers) between 2013 and 2022.
  • Eighth lowest percentage of property loss and damage claims reimbursed in full (21.43%).

San Antonio also had the sixth highest number of weather-related car accidents (212) in November, December and January between 2017 and 2021.

Travel Insurance Tips For Less-Stress Holiday Travel

Having the right travel insurance coverage in place can help reduce the stress of holiday travel—and reduce your out-of-pocket expenses if things go wrong.

Buy a Travel Insurance Policy With Your Top Concerns in Mind

Even the best travel insurance policies have a range of benefits and limits of what the insurer will pay for claims. When choosing a policy for holiday travel in the U.S., consider your top worries. For example:

  • If you’re putting down large non-refundable deposits on hotels, airfare and other expenses, you want to insure those prepaid amounts under the trip cancellation portion of the policy.
  • If you’re worried about airport delays, look for a policy with a generous amount of travel delay insurance and a short waiting period for travel delay benefits to begin.

If your sole concern is losing money on a flight, consider flight travel insurance. It can cover flight delays that cause you to miss a connection, a diversion that lands you at a different airport and more.

Consider “Cancel for Any Reason” (CFAR) Coverage

Travel insurance policies cover trip cancellation when the cancellation reason is listed in the policy. But what if you’re worried about needing to cancel for a reason not listed in the policy? Consider adding a “cancel for any reason” (CFAR) travel insurance upgrade to your travel insurance policy.

CFAR allows you to make a trip cancellation insurance claim when you cancel for a reason not listed in the base policy. For example, you could make a CFAR claim if you:

  • Don’t like the rainy weather forecasted for your destination.
  • Have a falling out with the people you planned to visit.
  • Decide that the stress of the holidays is better handled by staying at home.

Keep Receipts and Document Everything

Documentation is key if you have to file a travel insurance claim. By keeping receipts for all your expenses, filing a claim can be a breeze. For example:

  • If you experience a holiday airport delay, keep the receipts for the necessities you pay for during the delay. You’ll need these for a travel delay insurance claim.
  • If you have to cut your trip short and return home, keep receipts for all related expenses so that you can make a trip interruption insurance claim.

Deprioritize Travel Medical Insurance

If you’re an American traveling within the U.S., and you have a good health insurance plan, you likely don’t need a travel insurance policy with a high level of travel medical insurance. Robust medical insurance is important for people traveling abroad, where their U.S. plans may not provide any coverage.

Deprioritizing coverage you don’t need can help you find cheap travel insurance that still addresses your main holiday travel worries.

Compare & Buy Travel Insurance For 2024

Compare Quotes With Over 22 Travel Insurers

 

Methodology

To determine which cities are worst for holiday travel, Forbes Advisor analyzed data for the 50 most populated cities (42 of which had available data) across three key categories: driving experience, city experience and air travel experience.

We evaluated these 14 relevant metrics:

Driving Experience – Total points: 40

  • Number of people involved in fatal crashes between November and January per 100,000 city residents: 11% of score. Data comes from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality and Injury Reporting System Tool (FIRST). For this metric, we took a five-year average, using data from 2016 to 2020. City population data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau, 2022.
  • Number of fatal weather-related car accidents between November and January: 11% of score. Data comes from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality and Injury Reporting System Tool (FIRST). For this metric, we used the total number of fatal weather-related car accidents in November, December and January between 2017 and 2021.
  • Average gas prices: 6% of score. This metric reflects the average price of regular gasoline. Data comes from AAA, 2023.
  • Number of hours lost in traffic congestion per year: 6% of score. Data comes from the INRIX 2022 Global Traffic Scorecard.
  • Average speed in rush hour traffic: 6% of score. Data comes from the INRIX 2022 Global Traffic Scorecard.

City Experience – Total points: 35

  • Crime rate: 8% of score. This metric reflects the number of violent and property crimes per 1,000 residents. Data comes from Neighborhood Scout, 2021.
  • Average hotel price for a four-night stay during the holiday season: 7% of score. Data comes from Expedia, 2023. For this metric, we found the median hotel price in each city for a four-night stay during the following time periods: November 21-25, December 22-26 and January 1-5. We then took the average across all time periods for each city.
  • Number of tourist attractions with three or more stars on Tripadvisor: 5% of score. Data comes from Tripadvisor, 2023.
  • Number of restaurants with four or more stars on Tripadvisor: 5% of score. Data comes from Tripadvisor, 2023.
  • Walk Score: 5% of score. Data comes from WalkScore.com and reflects pedestrian friendliness.
  • Transit Score: 5% of score. Data comes from WalkScore.com and reflects access to public transit.

Air Travel Experience – Total points: 25

  • Percentage of flights delayed, canceled or diverted: 9% of score. This metric reflects the total percentage of flights delayed, canceled or diverted in November, December and January between 2018 and 2022. Data comes from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) TranStats database.
  • Number of property loss and damage claims per 100,000 domestic passengers: 9% of score. This metric reflects the total number of property loss and damage claims in November, December and January between 2013 and 2022.
  • Percentage of property loss and damage claims reimbursed in full: 7% of score. This metric reflects the percentage of property loss and damage claims submitted in November, December and January between 2013 and 2022 that were fully reimbursed.

Property loss and damage claims data comes from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). All data reflects claims submitted for property loss or property damage that occurred during the TSA screening process at each airport.

For cities with two major airports, we used the total number of air travel disruptions at both airports. The number of domestic passengers comes from the BTS.

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