AAA Projects More Than 115 Million Americans Will Travel for Holidays

A record-smashing 115.6 million Americans are expected to travel this holiday season, according to AAA’s annual forecast published Thursday.

The holiday travel period is defined as Sunday, December 21 through Wednesday, January 1 and this year’s projection is the highest since AAA began tracking in 2000. It also represents an increase of nearly 4 percent over 2018.

A majority of holiday travelers, 104.8 million, will drive to their holiday destinations while 6.97 million Americans are expected to fly. The latter figure is the most since 2003. Travel by trains, buses and cruise ships will also increase this year, reaching 3.81 million.

“Holiday cheer is at an all-time high this year, with unemployment at historically low levels, and noted improvements in both disposable income and household net worth,” said Paula Twidale, vice president, AAA Travel, in a statement. “Travelers should be getting used to crowded highways and airports, as this marks the eighth straight year of new record-high travel volumes for the year-end holidays.”

INRIX anticipates that Thursday, December 26 will be the worst day for road congestion, with afternoon delays reaching nearly double congestion-free drive times in many major U.S. cities, including New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. However, it’s not all bad news as the global transportation analytics company is predicting only marginal delays throughout the holiday week.

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

More Americans than ever on record – 115.6 million – will travel this #holiday season! #travelforecast #Christmas #NewYears #Hanukkah #Kwanzaa https://t.co/tqb6uW6Ih8 pic.twitter.com/XOvdOm3cPL

AAA’s flight booking data shows that December 21-23 will be the busiest time to fly, with Sunday, December 22 being the single busiest air travel day of the holiday week. Meanwhile, Thursday, December 26 has the highest average ticket price of the week at $692. On the flip side, Christmas Eve (Tuesday, December 24) will be the best day to fly, with the lowest average price per ticket ($527), based on AAA’s flight booking data, and the fewest crowds of the holiday week.

While hotel prices should remain relatively steady this holiday season—AAA Three Diamond hotel prices have increased 1 percent compared to last year to an average of $153 and AAA Two Diamond hotel prices have dropped 2 percent to $119—AAA’s Leisure Travel Index shows that the daily average car rental rate will reach $84, the highest price in 10 years and a whopping 11 percent jump from last year.

Where are travelers headed this year?

Unsurprisingly, most travelers have their sights set on warm-weather destinations this holiday season, with Orlando; Anaheim, California; Honolulu; Kahului, Hawaii; Las Vegas; Fort Lauderdale; New York City; Miami; Tampa and Phoenix among the 10 most popular destinations in the U.S. for year-end holidays in 2019, based on advance AAA Travel bookings.

Mexico and the Caribbean are also hot, both literally and figuratively. Cancun; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; Montego Bay, Jamaica; Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico are AAA’s top five international destinations for the year-end holidays.

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