As the holiday season approaches, AAA forecasts that more than one-third of Americans will take to the nation’s runways, roadways, and rails this holiday season. The record-breaking 112.5 million travelers represents a 4.4 percent increase over last year and the most since AAA began tracking holiday travel. For the more than 102 million people who will pack up their cars for a holiday road trip, INRIX, a global mobility analytics company, predicts travel times in the most congested cities in the U.S. could be as much as four times longer than a normal trip.
“It’s exciting to see a record-breaking number of people traveling and bringing cheer to family and friends,” said Jim Lehman, president of AAA East Central. “The strong economy and declining gas price trends play a role in this year’s projected increase.”
The year-end holiday travel period is defined as Saturday, Dec. 22 through Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. The 11-day span is one day longer than last year, due to Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on Tuesdays this year.
East North Central* Year-End Forecast Highlights include:
Holiday travelers will total 18.46 million, an increase of 4.4 percent from the 17.69 million in 2017.
16.8 million will travel by automobile, up 4.4 percent from last year’s 16.1 million.
1 million people will fly to their destinations, up 4 percent from the previous year’s amount of 962,000.
*East North Central includes IL, IN, OH, MI, and WI.
Based on historical and recent travel trends, INRIX expects drivers to experience the greatest amount of congestion before the holiday week – starting on Wednesday, Dec. 19 – as commuters and holiday travelers mix on our nation’s busiest roadways. Drivers in Atlanta, New York City, Boston and Houston will see travel times more than three times a normal trip.
Falling Gas Prices Motivating More Holiday Travelers to Drive
While gas has been relatively expensive throughout this year, a recent drop, combined with rising disposable income, is motivating more Americans to hit the road this holiday season. Gas prices averaged $2.46 for the first week of December, which set the record as the cheapest national gas price averages of the year.
Car Rental Costs Reach 10-Year High, Hotel Prices Mixed
Holiday road trippers should budget slightly more for a rental car this year, as daily rates have increased 3 percent over last year. At $76, the daily average car rental this holiday season is the most expensive in 10 years. Travelers will also pay a bit more at AAA Two Diamond hotels, where prices are 1 percent more than last year, or $122 per night. Conversely, the average rate for AAA Three Diamond hotels has fallen 3 percent to an average nightly cost of $152.
Top 10 Year-End Travel Destinations
Warm-weather destinations are top draws in the winter months, occupying nine of the top 10 spots on the list of most popular holiday destinations, based on AAA’s online and travel agency air and tour bookings. The major cruise ports of Fort Lauderdale and Miami have both gained in popularity compared with last year, on the heels of a strong year for cruise sales. Meanwhile, New York City, the only cold-weather destination to make the top 10, can also expect a growing influx of travelers this holiday season.
Anaheim, California (Disneyland)
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Montego Bay, Jamaica
New York, New York
Kahului, Hawaii (Maui)
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
AAA to Rescue More Than 960,000 Motorists
AAA expects to rescue more than 960,000 motorists at the roadside this year-end holiday period. Dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires will be the leading reasons AAA members will experience car trouble. AAA recommends motorists take their vehicle to a trusted repair facility to perform any needed maintenance before heading out. Oil changes, fluid level checks, battery tests and tire inspections go a long way toward reducing the chances of a breakdown. AAA members who require roadside assistance can call the toll-free number (800-222-4357 or 800-AAA-Help), or contact AAA via www.AAA.com for assistance.
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 46 percent of all crashes involving bad weather take place in the winter. AAA encourages drivers to be vigilant when hitting the road this winter and to always stay prepared by carrying an emergency roadside kit containing a mobile phone and car charger, first-aid kit, blankets, drinking water and snacks, a flashlight with extra batteries, a basic toolkit, warning flares, an ice scraper, jumper cables and a shovel.
About the AAA Year-End Holiday Travel Forecast:
AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Markit. The London-based business information provider teamed with AAA in 2009 to jointly analyze travel trends during major holidays. AAA has been reporting on holiday travel trends for more than two decades. The complete AAA/IHS Markit 2018 year-end holiday travel forecast is available here.
AAA East Central is a not-for-profit association with 80 local offices in Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia serving 2.7 million members. News releases are available at news.eastcentral.aaa.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.