Thanksgiving Travel to Rebound Almost to Pre-Pandemic Levels

AAA predicts highest single-year increase in Thanksgiving travel since 2005

PRESS RELEASE – Airports and roads may seem jam-packed this year as AAA predicts 53.4 million Americans (nearly 2.2 million Ohioans) will travel between Wednesday, Nov. 24 and Sunday, Nov. 28 for the Thanksgiving holiday, up 13% from 2020.

This brings travel volumes within 5% of pre-pandemic levels in 2019 (6.5% in Ohio), and marks the fourth highest Thanksgiving travel volume on record. As restrictions continue to lift and consumer confidence builds, AAA urges travelers to be proactive when making their travel plans this holiday season.

“This Thanksgiving, travel will look a lot different than last year,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel. “Now that the borders are open and new health and safety guidelines are in place, travel is once again high on the list for Americans who are ready to reunite with their loved ones for the holiday.”

Air Travel Making a Comeback:

Airports will be busy this Thanksgiving. AAA expects air travel to almost completely recover from its dramatic fall during the pandemic, up 80% over last year (81.5% in Ohio).

Airlines are responding to rising demand by increasing schedules and adding more staff, but travelers should still be prepared for delays or cancellations. AAA recommends travelers:

  • Work with a knowledgeable travel advisor when booking your trip. They’ll serve as your advocate in case your flight is delayed or canceled, and can help with any last-minute travel plans.
  • Look for early morning flights, as they are the least likely to be delayed or canceled.
  • Consider flight travel insurance, but read the fine print to understand what it covers.
  • Pack all medications, snacks and change of clothes in a carry-on bag.
  • Plan on arriving to the airport two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight.
  • Check flight status before heading to the airport.
  • Know your rights as an air passenger and review your airline’s contract of carriage for information on their policies for flight delays, cancellations and rebooking. By law, travelers are entitled to a refund when an airline cancels their flight.

Road Trips Top Holiday Travel Plans:

Despite gas costing over a dollar more per gallon than this time last year, 90% of American travelers (89% of Ohio travelers) will drive to their destination this Thanksgiving.

With 8.4% more Americans (7.5% more Ohioans) on the roads this Thanksgiving, motorists can expect more traffic congestion, especially heading into the holiday weekend. INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts the heaviest traffic will occur Wednesday afternoon and evening as commuters leave work early and mix with holiday travelers. Sunday afternoon will also be busy on the roads as travelers return home.

Daily Worst and Best Times to Travel
Day Worst Time Best Time
Wednesday 12:00 – 8:00PM After 9:00PM
Thursday 12:00 – 3:00PM Before 11:00AM
Friday 1:00 – 4:00PM Before 11:00AM
Saturday 2:00 – 7:00PM Before 12:00PM
Sunday 1:00 – 7:00PM Before 12:00PM
Source: INRIX

Road Safety:

AAA expects to respond to more than 400,000 calls for emergency roadside assistance over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Before hitting the road, drivers should get a vehicle inspection to check key components like the battery, fuel system, tires, brakes and fluid levels.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol reminds motorists to buckle up, never drive impaired and always follow traffic laws. Last year during the Thanksgiving holiday reporting period, there were 11 fatal crashes that killed 11 people on Ohio’s roadways. Five of those fatalities were the result of impaired driving and four were unbuckled when a seatbelt was available. Troopers will have an increased presence on Ohio’s roadways to promote a safe Thanksgiving holiday.

With the extra holiday traffic, ODOT will suspend roadwork and open as many lanes as possible. However, drivers should pay extra attention while driving through work zones and allow additional time to reach your destination. ODOT will also use more than 130 digital message boards to reinforce safe driving behaviors.

Holiday Travel Costs:

Those considering last minute trips should book flights, car rentals, accommodations and other activities as soon as possible. Prices are not going down and are still somewhat impacted by the limited capacity of flights and staffing challenges faced by many industries.

  • Air: The average lowest airfare is 27.3% less than last year coming in at $132. Tuesday and Wednesday are still the most expensive and heaviest travel days, with Monday being the lightest and least expensive.
  • Hotels: Mid-range hotel rates have increased about 39%, with average nightly rates ranging between $137 and $172 for AAA Approved Hotels.
  • Car Rentals: Daily car rental rates have increased 4% compared to last Thanksgiving at $98. Over the summer, consumers experienced high costs and limited availability of rental cars in some markets due to the semi-conductor chip shortage impacting automakers. While this shortage has subsided, it could return as the holidays near.

COVID-19 Travel Guidance:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released its recommendations for holiday gatherings and related travel, saying that the best way to minimize COVID-19 risk is to get vaccinated if you’re eligible. However, everyone’s situation is unique. AAA urges anyone considering gathering or traveling for Thanksgiving to consult CDC guidance before finalizing holiday plans.

Travelers can also consult AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map and TripTik.AAA.com to understand closures, recommendations and requirements when traveling in the U.S.

Remember, masks are still required for everyone on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations. The CDC also recommends everyone wear a mask indoors in public if they are in an area of substantial or high transmission.

Forecast Methodology:

In cooperation with AAA, IHS Markit—a world leader in critical information, analytics and expertise—developed a unique methodology to forecast actual domestic travel volumes. The economic variables used to forecast travel for the current holiday are leveraged from IHS Markit’s proprietary databases. These data include macroeconomic drivers such as employment, output, household net worth, asset prices including stock indices, interest rates, housing market indicators, and variables related to travel and tourism, including prices of gasoline, airline travel and hotel stays.

Historical travel volume estimates come from DK SHIFFLET’s TRAVEL PERFORMANCE/MonitorSM. The PERFORMANCE/MonitorSM is a comprehensive study measuring the travel behavior of U.S. residents. DK SHIFFLET contacts over 50,000 U.S. households each month to obtain detailed travel data, resulting in the unique ability to estimate visitor volume and spending, identify trends and forecast U.S. travel behavior—all after the trips have been taken. 

The travel forecast is reported in in-person trips. In particular, AAA and IHS Markit forecast the total U.S. holiday travel volume and expected mode of transportation.

About AAA

AAA provides more than 62 million members with travel-, insurance-, financial-, and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited online at AAA.com.

About INRIX
INRIX is the global leader in connected car services and transportation analytics. Leveraging big data and the cloud, INRIX delivers comprehensive services and solutions to help move people, cities and businesses forward. INRIX’s partners are automakers, governments, mobile operators, developers, advertisers, as well as enterprises large and small.

About IHS Markit
IHS Markit (NYSE: INFO) is a world leader in critical information, analytics and solutions for the major industries and markets that drive economies worldwide. The company delivers next-generation information, analytics and solutions to customers in business, finance and government, improving their operational efficiency and providing deep insights that lead to well-informed, confident decisions. IHS Markit has more than 50,000 business and government customers, including 80 percent of the Fortune Global 500 and the world’s leading financial institutions. Headquartered in London, IHS Markit is committed to sustainable, profitable growth.

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