The socioeconomic inequalities found in child and adolescent mental wellbeing are increasingly acknowledged. Although interventions increasingly focus on school holidays as a critical period for intervention to reduce inequalities, no studies have modelled the role of summer holiday experiences in explaining socioeconomic inequalities in wellbeing. For this study, we analysed survey data of 103,971 adolescents from 193 secondary schools in Wales, United Kingdom, which included measures of family affluence, experiences during the summer holidays (hunger, loneliness, time with friends and physical activity) and mental wellbeing and internalising symptoms on return to school. Structural equation modelling was used to analyse the data. Although family affluence retained a direct inverse association with student mental wellbeing (r = −0.04, p 0.05). Of all summer holiday experiences, the strongest mediational pathway was observed for reports of loneliness. Although more structural solutions to poverty remain essential, school holiday interventions may have significant potential for reducing socioeconomic inequalities in mental health and wellbeing on young people’s return to school through reducing loneliness, providing nutritious food and opportunities for social interaction.