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AAA Predicts ‘Dramatic Bounce-Back’ of Holiday Travel

Road trips to remain the top means of transportation
convenience store holiday traffic
Photograph: Shutterstock

HEATHROW, Fla. — Americans who had to cancel getaways and get-togethers last year because of the pandemic are making up for lost time this holiday season. More than 109 million people—an almost 34% increase from 2020—will travel 50 miles or more as they hit the road, board airplanes or take other transportation out of town between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2.

That dramatic bounce-back—27.7 million more people traveling—will bring this year’s numbers to 92% of 2019 levels. Airlines will see a 184% increase from last year.

“Americans who canceled their vacations in 2020 want to gather with family and friends for the holidays this year, although they will still be mindful of the pandemic and the new omicron variant,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel. “With vaccines widely available, conditions are much different and many people feel a greater level of comfort with travel.”

Road trips remain the top mode of travel during the holidays, with more than 100 million planning to head to their destinations in cars despite gas costing $1.25 per gallon more than a year ago. More than 6 million people are expected to travel by air, while 3 million people are booking buses, trains and cruises.

AAA booking data through October shows that domestically, theme-park-heavy destinations like Orlando, Fla., and Anaheim, Calif., top the list of popular travel spots. Las Vegas, New York City and several other Florida cities also rank high.

For car rentals, the average rate has increased 20% for Christmas travel, with the average lowest daily rate of $130. It has increased 65% for New Year’s, for an average lowest daily rate of $103. Rental car companies have been re-building their inventory following a shortage over the summer, but with the increased demand expected around this time of the year, it’s important to book as early as possible.

INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts only marginal delays overall throughout the holiday week. However, major metro areas across the United States could see more than double the delays versus typical drive times, with drivers in New York City likely to experience more than three times the delays.

“With kids out of school and many Americans taking extended time off for the holidays, drivers will experience incremental delays throughout the week. Although congestion will be overall lighter than normal, knowing when and where major delays will likely happen will help save time and reduce stress this holiday season,” said Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst at INRIX.

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