Stats: Near-Record 55 Million People to Travel This Thanksgiving

(Photo by AAA)

Thanksgiving travel is set to hit its highest level since 2005, according to the latest Thanksgiving travel forecast from AAA, making it the second-biggest year since the organization began keeping records in 2000. More than 55 million travelers will hit the road and skies this year, up 2.9 percent from last year. 

The vast majority of holiday travelers will drive to their destinations and, INRIX, a global transportation analytics company, expects Wednesday afternoon to be the worst travel period nationally, with trips taking as much at four times longer than normal in major metros.

“Strong economic fundamentals are motivating Americans to venture out this holiday in near-record numbers,” said AAA Travel Vice President Paula Twidale in a written statement. “Consumer spending remains strong, thanks to increasing wages, disposable income and household wealth, and travel remains one of their top priorities for the holiday season.”

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  • Automobiles: 49.3 million travelers will hit the road this Thanksgiving, the most since 2005 and 2.8 percent more than last year.
  • Planes: With 4.6 percent growth, air travel will see the biggest increase in travel volume during the Thanksgiving holiday, with 4.45 million Americans expected to fly.
  • Trains, Buses and Cruise Ships: Travel by other modes will reach 1.49 million, a slight increase of 1.4 percent from 2018.

For the 49.3 million Americans traveling by automobile, INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts major delays throughout the week, peaking Wednesday with trips taking as much four times longer as commuters mix with travelers.

“With record levels of travelers, and persistent population growth in the country’s major metropolitan areas, drivers must prepare for major delays,” said Trevor Reed, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Although travel times will peak on Wednesday afternoon nationally, travelers should expect much heavier than normal congestion throughout the week.”

A recent analysis of AAA’s flight booking data from the last three years showed that flying the Monday before the Thanksgiving travel rush is the best option for travelers. It has the lowest average ticket price ($486) prior to the holiday and is a lighter travel day than later in the week. Travelers can also save by traveling on Thanksgiving Day, which has the week’s lowest average price per ticket ($454).

Holiday road trippers should budget more for a rental car this year, which have reached their highest prices on record for the Thanksgiving holiday (since 1999), at $75 per day, AAA said. Travelers will also pay a bit more at AAA Two Diamond hotels, where prices are 1 percent more than last year, or $125 per night. Conversely, the average rate for AAA Three Diamond hotels has fallen 5 percent to an average nightly cost of $158.

The theme parks of Orlando and southern California, and other warm-weather destinations will see an influx of travelers looking to escape the start of winter. Florida is home to four of the top 10 destinations, and Hawaii twice graces the list of top destinations in the U.S. this Thanksgiving, based on advance AAA Travel bookings:

  1. Orlando, Florida
  2. Anaheim, California
  3. New York, New York
  4. Las Vegas, Nevada
  5. Honolulu, Hawaii
  6. Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
  7. Tampa, Florida
  8. Kahului, Maui, Hawaii
  9. Phoenix, Arizona
  10. Miami, Florida

For those travelers planning an international vacation for Thanksgiving, sandy beaches are their destinations of choice. Nassau, Bahamas; Cancun, Mexico; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; and Montego Bay, Jamaica are AAA’s top international destinations this Thanksgiving, with Munich, Germany rounding out the top five.

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