ORLANDO, FL—More Americans than ever on record—115.6 million—will travel this holiday season, from Saturday, Dec. 21 through Wednesday, Jan. 1. That is the most in nearly 20 years since AAA began tracking in 2000, and represents an increase of 3.9% over last year, or 4.3 million more people packing up their sleighs for a holiday getaway. More than 104 million of those holiday travelers will drive to their destinations and, INRIX, a global transportation analytics company, expects delays to be the worst on Thursday, Dec. 26, with afternoon delays reaching nearly double congestion-free drive times in major U.S. cities.
“Holiday cheer is at an all-time high this year, with unemployment at historically low levels, and noted improvements in both disposable income and household net worth,” said Paula Twidale, VP, AAA Travel. “Travelers should be getting used to crowded highways and airports, as this marks the eighth straight year of new record-high travel volumes for the year-end holidays.”
More Americans than ever on record will drive this holiday season
Automobiles: 104.8 million Americans, the most on record, will drive to their holiday destinations. That means 3.9 million more people are expected on the roads compared with last year, for an increase of 3.9%.
Planes: With 4.9% growth, air travel will see the biggest increase in travel volume during the year-end holidays, with 6.97 million Americans expected to fly—the most since 2003.
Trains, Buses and Cruise Ships: Travel by these other modes will reach 3.81 million, 3% more than last year.
Rushing home for the holidays
For the 104.8 million Americans traveling by automobile, INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts only marginal delays throughout the holiday week. Nationally, drivers could experience double the travel times on Thursday and Friday afternoon, although New York City and Washington, DC could see triple the delays.
“With kids out of school and many Americans taking extended time off for the holidays, drivers will experience only incremental delays throughout the week. Although congestion will be lighter than normal, knowing when and where major delays will likely happen will help save time and reduce stress this holiday season,” said Trevor Reed, transportation analyst, INRIX.
Gas prices are lower
Gas prices steadily declined in November, paving the way for even cheaper prices for the year-end holidays. AAA expects most motorists to see gas prices drop before the new year, but will likely be slightly more expensive than last December’s national gas price average of $2.37.
Prepare for busy airports, steep flight prices
A recent analysis of AAA’s flight booking data revealed that most travelers depart two to four days prior to the Christmas holiday, Dec. 21-23, with the 22nd being the single busiest air travel day of the holiday week. These travelers, on average, pay ticket prices between $593 and $639. Christmas Eve is the best day to travel, with the lowest average price per ticket ($527) and the fewest crowds of the holiday week. Many travelers opt to fly after the Christmas holiday leading up to New Year’s, and they pay a premium to do so. Dec. 26 has the highest average ticket price of the week at $692.
Hotel prices fluctuate slightly; car rental rates reach 10-year high
Travelers will need to budget more for car rentals this holiday season. According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, the daily average rental rate this Christmas and New Year’s will reach $84, 11% more than last year and the highest price in 10 years. AAA Three Diamond hotel prices have increased 1% to $153, while AAA Two Diamond hotels will average $119, 2% less than last year.
Theme parks, warm-weather destinations & NYC top holiday getaways
Theme parks in Orlando, FL and southern California, other warm-weather locales, and New York City top the list of 10 most popular destinations in the U.S. for the year-end holidays, based on advance AAA Travel bookings:
- Orlando, FL
- Anaheim, CA
- Kahului, Maui, HI
- Las Vegas
- Ft. Lauderdale, FL
- New York
- Tampa, FL
- Phoenix, AZ
Many travelers are also seeking warm weather and sandy beaches in Mexico and the Caribbean this holiday season. Cancun, Mexico; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; Montego Bay, Jamaica; Los Cabos, Mexico; and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, are AAA’s top five international destinations for the year-end holidays.