Stats: Thanksgiving Travel to Hit Highest Level Since 2005

AAA projects 54.3 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more away from home this Thanksgiving, a 4.8 percent increase over last year. The 2018 holiday weekend will see the highest Thanksgiving travel volume in more than a dozen years (since 2005), with 2.5 million more people taking to the nation’s roads, skies, rails and waterways compared with last year. For the 48.5 million Americans planning a Thanksgiving road trip, INRIX, a global mobility analytics company, predicts travel times in the most congested cities in the U.S. could be as much as four times longer than a normal trip.

The Thanksgiving holiday period is defined as Wednesday, November 21 to Sunday, November 25.

By the Numbers: 2018 Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Forecast

  • Automobiles: The vast majority of travelers – 48.5 million – will hit the road this Thanksgiving, nearly 5 percent more than last year.
  • Planes: The largest growth in holiday travel is by air, at 5.4 percent, with 4.27 million travelers.
  • Trains, Buses and Cruise Ships: Travel across these sectors will increase by 1.4 percent, with a total 1.48 million passengers.

Drivers Beware: Thanksgiving’s Terrible Traffic

Based on historical and recent travel trends, INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts drivers will experience the greatest amount of congestion Thanksgiving week during the early evening commute period, with travel times starting to increase on Monday. Drivers in San Francisco, New York City and Boston will see the largest delays – nearly quadruple normal drive times.

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In most cases, the best days to travel will be on Thanksgiving Day, Friday or Saturday. Drivers should expect increased travel times on Sunday as most holiday travelers will be making their way home after the long weekend.

Across the country, travelers who take to the sky must account for long security lines, but also increased drive times to the airport. INRIX expects delays getting to the nation’s busiest airports could be as long as an hour and a half. The busiest airports this year will be Dallas – Fort Worth, San Francisco, Denver, New York – JFK, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Chicago O’Hare and Seattle.

Higher Gas Prices Not Keeping Holiday Travelers Home

Motorists can expect to pay the highest Thanksgiving gas prices in four years, with a national average of $2.79 as of November 1, 31-cents more than a year ago.

“Motorists have become accustomed to this year’s more expensive gas prices and won’t let higher fuel costs deter them from taking Thanksgiving road trips,” said AAA gas price expert Jeanette Casselano.

Best Times to Fly and Book Thanksgiving Flights

An analysis of AAA’s flight booking data from the last three years revealed that the Tuesday and Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving are usually the most popular air travel days and have the highest average price per roundtrip ticket. Meanwhile, Thanksgiving Day consistently has the lowest average price per ticket and is the lightest travel day. Travelers looking to save money this holiday season can fly the morning of the holiday and arrive just in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

Most travelers booked their flights for Thanksgiving between September 23 and October 25, paying an average ticket price of $478 roundtrip. Procrastinating travelers who still need to book their flights may find cheaper airfares, paying an average ticket price of $459 between now and November 15. However, last-minute flight availability will likely be very limited.

Car Rental Costs Fall, Hotel Prices Mixed

Travelers can expect to save on car rentals this Thanksgiving holiday season. At $63, the average daily rate is 10 percent less than last year, according to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index. Travelers can also save on AAA Three Diamond hotels, with an average nightly rate of $166, a decline of six percent compared to last year. Conversely, the average rate for AAA Two Diamond hotels has increased six percent with an average nightly cost of $124.

Top 10 Thanksgiving Destinations

Many travelers will seek iconic American cities, theme parks and other warm-weather destinations this Thanksgiving. Orlando, New York City and Anaheim top this year’s top 10 holiday destinations based on AAA’s online and travel agency air and tour bookings. Punta Cana, Dallas/Fort Worth and Miami are all gaining popularity as holiday spots compared with last year.

  1. Orlando, Florida
  2. New York, New York
  3. Anaheim, California
  4. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
  5. Las Vegas, Nevada
  6. Cancun, Mexico
  7. Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas
  8. Honolulu, Hawaii
  9. Washington, DC
  10. Miami, Florida

Source: AAA

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