Near-Record Travel Predicted for Thanksgiving

More than 49 million Americans will hit the road for the holiday: AAA
Photograph: Shutterstock

ORLANDO, Fla. — Thanksgiving holiday travel will reach near-record highs in 2019, thanks to strong economic fundamentals and relatively low gasoline prices, AAA said. 

In its travel forecast for the 2019 Thanksgiving holiday, AAA expects the second-highest travel volume on record, falling just behind 2005 levels. This would mark the 11th straight annual increase in travel volume for the Thanksgiving holiday, which AAA defines as Wednesday, Nov. 26, to Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019.

Most Americans will travel this Thanksgiving holiday to their destination by car. AAA expects automobile travel to rise nearly 3% to 49.3 million travelers. This is 1.4 million more travelers than the Thanksgiving 2018 holiday and the highest travel volume since 2005.

On Thanksgiving Day alone, 3 million will travel by car, up 2.8% from 2018 and second only to numbers seen in 2005.

Strong Fundamentals

AAA cites a few economic factors behind the near-record Thanksgiving travel:

  • Slowing but still strong growth in gross domestic product of 2.1% year over year during fourth-quarter 2019.
  • An unemployment rate that dipped to 3.5% in September, the lowest level in 50 years.
  • High levels of consumer spending supported by rising wages, disposable income and household wealth.
  • Positive consumer and corporate outlook measures, despite a dip earlier this year in consumer confidence.
  • Gasoline prices that are averaging 7% lower for the month of October than a year ago. AAA expects the national retail average on Thanksgiving to be similar to last year, or about $2.57 per gallon.

Travel Woes

Given the expected high number of travelers, traffic congestion and travel times are also expected to jump. According to projections by INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, travel times will peak on Wednesday, Nov. 26, during evening rush hour, with trips taking up to four times longer than normal. Metropolitan markets such as Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York should see the largest delay increases, according to INRIX.

“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 for INRIX. “Although travel times will peak on Wednesday afternoon nationally, travelers should expect much heavier than normal congestion throughout the week.”

AAA, Orlando, Fla., based its Thanksgiving holiday travel projections on economic forecasting and research by IHS Markit, a London-based business information provider.


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