Americans who had to cancel getaways and get-togethers last year are making up for lost time this holiday season. AAA projects more than 109 million people — an almost 34% increase from 2020 — will travel 50 miles or more as they hit the road, board airplanes or take other transportation out of town between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2.
That dramatic bounce-back — 27.7 million more people traveling — will bring this year’s numbers to 92% of 2019 levels. Airlines will see a 184% increase from last year.
“It’s encouraging to see so many more people are preparing to travel for the holidays this year,” said Bevi Powell, senior vice president, AAA East Central. “Americans are feeling more comfortable with making the choice to travel whether it’s for a long-awaited vacation or a trip home to see loved ones.”
Protect yourself — and your trip
AAA urges anyone considering gathering or traveling for the holidays to consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance. Based on your vaccination status, it’s essential to know requirements and recommendations for where you’re traveling to and from.
A trusted travel advisor can provide advice, serving as an advocate before, during and after a trip. Their extensive knowledge and expertise allow them to help travelers with questions related to travel insurance options, what destinations and attractions are open both domestically and internationally, destination-specific testing and vaccination requirements, what to do if last-minute changes to a trip are needed and much more.
AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map helps travelers understand closures, recommendations and requirements when traveling in the U.S. In addition, the CDC has an interactive map with recommendations and information about restrictions for international travel.
Masks are still required for everyone on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of U.S. public transportation and within transportation hubs such as airports and stations. The CDC also recommends everyone wear a mask indoors in public places in an area of substantial or high transmission.
Forecasted numbers may change
AAA notes that the actual number of travelers could fluctuate as we approach the holidays. Some people may decide to stay home if there is an increase in reported COVID-19 cases or because of concerns about the omicron variant, while others may note the progress in vaccinations and make last-minute decisions to travel. AAA recommends working with a travel advisor who can help you plan a vacation that meets your needs and comfort level this holiday season. To get started and to learn more, visit AAA.com/Travel.
Other things to consider:
Travel insurance — AAA highly recommends travel insurance to cover unexpected delays or trip interruptions. It is best to consult a travel advisor who can guide you on the coverage options available for your specific trip, including if your destination requires visitors to carry travel insurance.
Clean accommodations — When booking a place to stay, look for accommodations that prioritize cleanliness and have implemented additional housekeeping standards since the start of the pandemic. As part of the AAA Diamond program, enhanced housekeeping inspections now include objective, scientific validation of the cleanliness of common surfaces throughout hotels. A current list of AAA Diamond hotels, including those recognized as Inspected Clean, can be found here.
Domestic and international travel guidelines — When traveling within the U.S., fully vaccinated travelers do not need a negative viral test or to self-quarantine. For international travel, all air passengers, regardless of vaccination status or nationality, must show a negative COVID-19 viral test result taken no more than one day before travel into the U.S. Refer to the CDC for more information.
More than 100 million on the roads and 6 million in the skies
Road trips remain the top mode of travel during the holidays, with over 100 million planning to head to their destinations in cars despite gas costing $1.25 per gallon more than a year ago. More than 6 million people are expected to travel by air, while 3 million people are booking buses, trains and cruises.
Theme parks, Vegas & NYC top holiday getaways
Theme parks in Orlando and southern California, Las Vegas and the iconic holiday destination of New York City top the list of the 10 most popular destinations in the U.S. for the year-end holidays, based on advance national AAA Travel bookings:
Las Vegas, NV
New York, NY; Kahului, Maui, HI (tie)
Fort Lauderdale, FL
San Diego, CA
AAA to rescue more than 1.3 million at the roadside
The over 100 million Americans planning to drive over the holidays need to be prepared for slowdowns and breakdowns. AAA expects to respond to as many as 1.3 million calls for help. Vehicles that have been driven less during the pandemic should get an inspection to check key components like the battery, fuel system, tires, brakes and fluid levels to avoid an unnecessary breakdown. It’s important to do this as early as possible in case there is an issue that needs to be fixed.
Rushing home for the holidays
INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts only marginal delays overall throughout the holiday week. However, major metro areas across the U.S. could see more than double the delays versus typical drive times. If traveling through any major city, motorists should prepare for possible delays by planning ahead and allowing extra travel time.
Higher prices this holiday season
With so many planning to travel, AAA suggests booking flights, car rentals, accommodations and other activities as early as possible.
Air — A recent analysis of AAA’s flight booking data revealed that ticket prices for Christmas week are up 5% from last year, with the average lowest round-trip fare of $154 for major U.S. destinations. For those flying around New Year’s, prices are up considerably more – 27% with the average lowest fare at $182. Those wanting to book last-minute travel will find the best fares about two weeks before their travel date but keep in mind availability may be limited.
Hotels — Mid-range hotel rates have increased 36% for AAA Approved hotels for Christmas travel, with an average nightly rate of $320. For New Year’s Eve, the average nightly rate is $267.
Car Rentals — For car rentals, the average rate has increased 20% for Christmas travel, with the average lowest daily rate of $130. It has increased 65% for New Year’s, for an average lowest daily rate of $103. Rental car companies have been re-building their inventory following a shortage over the summer, but with the increased demand expected around this time of the year, it’s important to book as early as possible.
AAA East Central is a not-for-profit association with 72 local offices in Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia serving 2.7 million members. News releases are available at https://news.eastcentral.aaa.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.