November 10, 2021 – Thanksgiving Travel – Airports and roads may seem jam-packed this year as AAA predicts 53.4 million people to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, up 13% from 2020. This brings travel volumes within 5% of pre-pandemic levels in 2019, with air travel almost completely recovering from its dramatic fall during the pandemic, up 80% over last year. As restrictions continue to lift and consumer confidence builds, AAA urges travelers to be proactive when making their travel plans this holiday season.
“This Thanksgiving, travel will look a lot different than last year,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel. “Now that the borders are open and new health and safety guidelines are in place, travel is once again high on the list for Americans who are ready to reunite with their loved ones for the holiday.”
With 6.4 million more people traveling this Thanksgiving coupled with the recent opening of the U.S. borders to fully vaccinated international travelers—people should prepare for roads and airports to be noticeably more crowded.
|2021 Thanksgiving Holiday Travelers|
(Bus, Train, Cruise)
|Change YOY |
2019 to 2021
|Change YOY |
2020 to 2021
“International travel re-opening will allow people to reconnect with friends and family and explore new places, while also giving a much-needed boost to the economy,” continued Twidale. “But it also means airports will be busier than we’ve seen, so travelers must plan for long lines and extra time for TSA checks.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released its recommendations for holiday gatherings and related travel, saying that the best way to minimize COVID-19 risk is to get vaccinated if you’re eligible. However, everyone’s situation is unique and therefore, AAA urges anyone considering gathering or traveling for Thanksgiving to consult CDC guidance before finalizing holiday plans.
This year’s forecast marks the highest single-year increase in Thanksgiving travelers since 2005, bringing travel volumes close to pre-pandemic levels in 2019. Despite gas costing over a dollar more per gallon than this time last year, 90% of people plan to travel by car as their preferred mode of travel. Although the car is still the most popular choice for travelers, a greater share will opt to travel by air and other modes such as bus, train or cruise this year. Whether you plan to do so by car or plane, it’s important to know how to navigate the new travel landscape to avoid unnecessary stress and challenges on the way to your Thanksgiving destination.
Be Proactive. Book flights, car rentals, accommodations and other activities as early as possible. Prices are not going down and are still somewhat impacted by the limited capacity of flights and staffing challenges faced by many industries. Consider working with a travel advisor who can make any last-minute changes to travel plans, explore travel insurance options and help plan a trip that meets your needs and comfort level this holiday season.
Be Patient. The roads and airports will be busy so plan ahead.
Be Prepared. For the 48.3 million Americans hitting the road, make sure you and your vehicle are ready for the trip ahead as AAA expects to respond to over 400,000 for help over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. If your vehicle has been sitting idle, AAA suggests getting an inspection to check key components like the battery, fuel system, tires, brakes and fluid levels. These systems are particularly vulnerable to deteriorating if a vehicle sits too long without proper care or maintenance.
Be Protected—Both You and Your Trip. If you plan to travel during the holidays, it’s essential to do so safely and understand how to protect yourself, your loved ones and your investment while traveling. Also, as travel restrictions remain in flux, it’s essential to know requirements and recommendations based on your vaccination status, where you’re traveling from and your destination. AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map and TripTik.AAA.com are also helpful resources travelers may use for free to understand closures, recommendations and requirements when traveling in the U.S.
Thanksgiving Travel – travelers Headed to Big Cities and Beaches This Thanksgiving
AAA Travel continues to see a strong recovery that began over the summer and will continue into the holiday season. AAA booking data reveals that big cities and tropical destinations are topping travelers’ list this Thanksgiving both domestically and abroad:
|2021 Top Thanksgiving Travel Destinations|
|U.S Destinations||International Destinations|
|Orlando, FL||Cancun, Mexico|
|Anaheim, CA||Montego Bay, Jamaica|
|Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX||Aruba|
|Phoenix, AZ||Los Cabos, Mexico|
|Honolulu, HI||Nassau, Bahamas|
|Kahului, Maui, HI||St. Lucia, West Indies|
|Atlanta, GA||Dublin, Ireland|
|Tampa, FL||(tie) Tel Aviv, Israel and Calgary, Canada|
|Ft. Lauderdale, FL||Paris, France|
Roads Will Be Bustling
INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts drivers will experience the worst congestion heading into the holiday weekend as commuters leave work early and mix with holiday travelers. Major metro areas across the U.S. could see more than double the delays versus typical drive times, with drivers in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and New York City likely to experience more than three times the delays.
“Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips and this year will be no different even during the pandemic,” says Bob Pishue, Transportation Analyst, INRIX. “Drivers around major metros must be prepared for significant delays, especially Wednesday afternoon. Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic.”
|Worst Corridors and Times to Travel|
|Metro Area||Corridor||Peak Congestion||% Over Normal|
|Atlanta||I-85 S, Clairmont Rd to MLK Dr||Wed, 1:30 – 3:30PM||340%|
|Boston||I-93 N, Quincy Market to MA-28||Wed, 1:00 – 3:00PM||240%|
|Chicago||I-290 W, Morgan St to Wolfe Rd||Wed, 2:45 – 4:45PM||329%|
|Detroit||I-96 W, 6 Mile Rd to Walled Lake||Wed, 2:00 – 4:00PM||211%|
|Houston||I-10 W, Sjolander Rd to TX-330||Wed, 3:15 – 5:15PM||344%|
|Los Angeles||I-5 S, Colorado St to Florence Ave||Wed, 3:45 – 5:45PM||385%|
|New York||I-495 E, Borden Ave to Little Neck Pkwy||Wed, 2:30 – 4:30PM||482%|
|San Francisco||I-80 E, I-580 to San Pablo Dam Rd||Wed, 4:00 – 6:00PM||278%|
|Seattle||I-5 S, WA-18 to WA-7||Wed, 4:00 – 6:00PM||257%|
|Washington DC||I-95 S, I-395 to VA-123||Wed, 2:00 – 4:00PM||230%|
|Daily Worst and Best Times to Travel|
|Day||Worst Time||Best Time|
|Wednesday||12:00 – 8:00PM||After 9:00PM|
|Thursday||12:00 – 3:00PM||Before 11:00AM|
|Friday||1:00 – 4:00PM||Before 11:00AM|
|Saturday||2:00 – 7:00PM||Before 12:00PM|
|Sunday||1:00 – 7:00PM||Before 12:00PM|
Expected Number May Change
AAA notes that the actual number of holiday travelers could fluctuate as we approach Thanksgiving. If there is an increase in reported COVID-19 cases, some people may decide to stay home, while others may note the progress in vaccinations and make last-minute decisions to travel. AAA recommends working with a travel advisor who can help you plan a vacation that meets your needs and comfort level this holiday season. To get started and to learn more, visit AAA.com/Travel.
In cooperation with AAA, IHS Markit—a world leader in critical information, analytics and expertise—developed a unique methodology to forecast actual domestic travel volumes. The economic variables used to forecast travel for the current holiday are leveraged from IHS Markit’s proprietary databases. These data include macroeconomic drivers such as employment, output, household net worth, asset prices including stock indices, interest rates, housing market indicators, and variables related to travel and tourism, including prices of gasoline, airline travel and hotel stays.
Historical travel volume estimates come from DK SHIFFLET’s TRAVEL PERFORMANCE/MonitorSM. The PERFORMANCE/MonitorSM is a comprehensive study measuring the travel behavior of U.S. residents. DK SHIFFLET contacts over 50,000 U.S. households each month to obtain detailed travel data, resulting in the unique ability to estimate visitor volume and spending, identify trends and forecast U.S. travel behavior—all after the trips have been taken.
The travel forecast is reported in-person trips. In particular, AAA and IHS Markit forecast the total U.S. holiday travel volume and expected mode of transportation.
AAA provides more than 62 million members with automotive, travel, insurance and financial services through its federation of 30 motor clubs and nearly 1,000 branch offices across North America. Since 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for safe mobility. Drivers can request roadside assistance, identify nearby gas prices, locate discounts, book a hotel or map a route via the AAA Mobile app. To join, visit AAA.com.
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