More Americans than ever on record – 115.6 million – will travel this holiday season, from Sunday, Dec. 21 through Wednesday, Jan. 1. That is the most since AAA began tracking in 2000, and represents an increase of 3.9% over last year, or 4.3 million more people packing up their sleighs for a holiday getaway. More than 104 million of those holiday travelers will drive to their destinations and, INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, expects delays to be the worst on Thursday, Dec. 26, with afternoon delays reaching nearly double congestion-free drive times in major U.S. cities.
“With unemployment at historically low levels, millions of Americans will put a bow on 2019 with a trip to see family and friends,” says Jim Lehman, president of AAA East Central. “It’s great to see so many people decide to take this opportunity to make new holiday memories that will last them a lifetime.”
Rushing home for the holidays
For the 104.8 million Americans traveling by automobile, AAA predicts only marginal delays throughout the holiday week. Nationally, drivers could experience double the travel times on Thursday and Friday afternoon, although New York City and Washington, D.C. could see triple the delays.
Increased traffic can make the holidays even more stressful. With that in mind, AAA encourages drivers to maintain a cool head, and focus on reaching their destination safely. AAA offers these tips to stay on Santa’s good list:
Do Not Offend. Never cause another driver to change their speed or direction. That means not forcing another driver to use their brakes, or turn the steering wheel in response to something you have done.
Be Tolerant and Forgiving. The other driver may just be having a really bad day. Assume that it is not personal.
Do Not Respond. Avoid eye contact, don’t make gestures, maintain space around your vehicle and contact 9-1-1 if needed.
Gas prices are expected to drop in time for the holidays, and AAA members can save even more with Shell
Gas prices steadily declined in November, paving the way for even cheaper prices for the year-end holidays. AAA expects most motorists to see gas prices drop before the new year, but will likely be slightly more expensive than last December’s national gas price average of $2.37.
As an added bonus for holiday road trippers, AAA members who register in the Fuel Rewards at Shell program through Dec. 31, 2019 can receive an additional 25 cents per gallon discount on their first fill up after registering as a new Fuel Rewards member, on top of the everyday 5-cent discount (30 cents total).
AAA to rescue more than 853,000 at the roadside
More than 853,000 motorists will call AAA for assistance at the roadside this holiday season. Dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts will be the leading reasons AAA members will experience car trouble. AAA recommends motorists take their vehicles to a trusted repair facility to perform any needed maintenance before heading out on a road trip. And remember to slow down and move over for stopped emergency vehicles at the roadside. It’s the law in all 50 states.
Prepare for busy airports Dec. 21-23, steep flight prices Dec. 26
A recent analysis of AAA’s flight booking data revealed that most travelers depart two to four days prior to the Christmas holiday, Dec. 21-23, with the 22nd being the single busiest air travel day of the holiday week. These travelers, on average, pay ticket prices between $593 and $639. Christmas Eve is the best day to travel, with the lowest average price per ticket ($527) and the fewest crowds of the holiday week. Many travelers opt to fly after the Christmas holiday leading up to New Year’s, and they pay a premium to do so. Dec. 26 has the highest average ticket price of the week at $692.
Hotel prices fluctuate slightly; car rental rates reach 10-year high
Travelers will need to budget more for car rentals this holiday season. According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, the daily average rental rate this Christmas and New Year’s will reach $84, 11% more than last year and the highest price in 10 years. AAA Three Diamond hotel prices have increased 1% to $153, while AAA Two Diamond hotels will average $119, 2% less than last year.
Theme parks, warm-weather destinations & NYC top holiday getaways
Theme parks in Orlando and southern California, other warm-weather locales, and the iconic holiday destination New York City top the list of 10 most popular destinations in the U.S. for the year-end holidays, based on advance national AAA Travel bookings:
Kahului, Maui, HI
Las Vegas, NV
Ft. Lauderdale, FL
New York, NY
Many travelers are also seeking warm weather and sandy beaches in Mexico and the Caribbean this holiday season. Cancun, Mexico; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; Montego Bay, Jamaica; Los Cabos, Mexico; and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, are AAA’s top five international destinations for the year-end holidays.
AAA’s travel experts remind travelers that it’s not too late to begin planning a holiday getaway. Visit AAA.com/Travel for travel planning resources to book your trip today.
About the Forecast:
AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Markit, a London-based business information provider. For the purposes of this forecast, the year-end holiday travel period is defined as the 12-day period from Saturday, Dec. 21 to Wednesday, Jan. 1.
In cooperation with AAA, IHS Markit developed a unique methodology to forecast actual domestic travel volumes, using 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.
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. Our partners are automakers, governments, mobile operators, developers, advertisers, as well as enterprises large and small.
AAA East Central is a not-for-profit association with 78 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.