AAA Travel expects a significant rebound in the number of Americans planning to travel this Memorial Day holiday weekend. From May 27 through May 31, more than 37 million people are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home, an increase of 60 percent from last year when only 23 million traveled, the lowest on record since AAA began recording in 2000.
The expected strong increase in demand from last year’s holiday, which fell during the early phase of the pandemic, still represents 13 percent—or nearly six million—fewer travelers than in 2019. AAA urges those who choose to travel this year to exercise caution and take measures to protect themselves and others as the pandemic continues.
AAA notes that the actual number of holiday travelers could fluctuate as we approach Memorial Day. If there is an increase in reported cases attributed to new COVID-19 variants, some people may decide to stay home, while others may note the strong progress in vaccinations and make last-minute decisions to travel. AAA recommends working with a travel agent, who can help if you need to make any last-minute changes to travel plans as well as explore travel insurance options and help you plan a vacation that meets your needs and comfort-level this summer.
Another factor contributing to the expected increase in travel this holiday is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recently updated guidance that fully vaccinated people can travel domestically at low risk to themselves, while taking proper precautions. It’s important to keep in mind that some local and state travel restrictions may still remain in place, however. Tip: Travelers can refer to AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map and TripTik.AAA.com for the latest information to help plan their trip.
For travelers who are not vaccinated but choose to travel, CDC recommends that you practice social distancing, wear a mask, wash your hands and get tested before and after travel. Whether you are vaccinated or not, remember masks are required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.
AAA Travel has noted significant recent increases in online traffic and bookings on AAA.com, particularly for hotels and car rentals, heading into the summer travel season. AAA booking data reveal that domestic travel and road trips remain the biggest drivers of travel recovery in the near term. Orlando and Las Vegas are top Memorial Day destinations this year, both for AAA Travel bookings and TripTik road trip searches. Other top destinations include the following:
- Las Vegas, NV
- Orlando, FL
- Myrtle Beach, SC
- Denver, CO
- Nashville, TN
AAA Travel Bookings:
- Orlando, FL
- Las Vegas, NV
- Honolulu, HI
- Anchorage, AK
- Colorado Springs, CO
Increase in Air Travel Expected but Road Trips Remain King
With 34 million Americans planning Memorial Day road trips, auto travel is expected to increase 52 percent compared to 2020. Nearly 12 million more Americans will travel by car this holiday than in 2020, though this is still 9 percent less than in 2019. More than nine in 10 Memorial Day travelers will drive to their destinations, as many Americans continue to substitute road trips for travel via planes, trains and other modes of transportation.
After a historically low year of air travel in 2020, this Memorial Day will see nearly 2.5 million Americans boarding airplanes, nearly six times more than last year (plus-577 percent). Still, 750,000 fewer people will take to the skies this holiday compared to 2019. AAA reminds air travelers that masks are required in all airports and on flights.
Meanwhile, just 237,000 Americans are expected to travel by other modes, including bus and train, this Memorial Day. This is the second-lowest volume on record, higher only than the 185,000 who traveled in 2020. In 2021, travel via these modes will be 88 percent below 2019 levels.
Drivers Beware: Worst Times to Hit the Road
INRIX predicts drivers will encounter the longest travel delays before the holiday weekend, particularly during the afternoons on Thursday, May 27 and Friday, May 28. Drivers in several major U.S. metros could experience double the travel times compared to a normal trip, while Atlanta, Houston and New York drivers could see more than three times the delay on the busiest corridors.
For the 34 million Americans expected to travel by car this Memorial Day, they can expect gas prices to be the most expensive since 2014 with the national average possibly more expensive than $3/gallon.
Gas prices will be increasing in part due to higher demand. As demand increases, gas stations are working to adjust delivery schedules to keep pace. However, there have been instances where some stations are seeing low to no supply at pumps for a few days due to delayed deliveries. Over the holiday weekend, some gas stations in popular travel destinations—like beaches and mountain areas—may experience this situation.