AAA: 39.2M to travel for Memorial Day

The unofficial start to summer will be a busy one this year as AAA predicts 39.2 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home this Memorial Day weekend. This is an increase of 8.3% from 2021, bringing travel volumes almost in line with those in 2017.

Air travel continues to rebound, up 25% from last year, the second-largest increase since 2010. With volumes closing in on pre-pandemic levels, AAA urges travelers to book now and remember flexibility is key this Memorial Day weekend.

“Memorial Day is always a good predictor of what’s to come for summer travel,” said Paula Twidale, SVP, AAA Travel. “Based on our projections, summer travel isn’t just heating up, it will be on fire. People are overdue for a vacation, and they are looking to catch up on some much-needed R&R in the coming months.”

Air travel volume, which began to rally last Thanksgiving, will hit levels just shy of 2019 with three million people expected to take to the skies this Memorial Day weekend. In fact, the percentage of people traveling by air will surpass 2019 levels with 7.7% of travelers choosing air travel as their preferred mode (it was 7.5% in 2019)

2022 Memorial Day Holiday Travelers
Total Automobile Air Other

(Bus, Train, Cruise)

2022 (Forecast) 39.2M 34.9M 3.01M 1.33M
2021 (Actual) 36.2M 33.4M 2.41M 440,000
2019 (Actual) 42.8M 37.6M 3.22M 1.90M
Change (2019 to 2022) -8.2% -7.3% -6.3% -29.6%
Change (2021 to 2022) 8.3% 4.6% 25% 199.9%

“Air travel has faced several challenges since the beginning of the year,” said Twidale. “With the type of volume we anticipate, we continue to recommend the safety net of a travel agent and travel insurance. Both are a lifesaver if something unexpectedly derails your travel plans.”

Memorial Day weekend is expected to be the busiest in two years, building on an upward trend that began earlier this spring. This year’s forecast marks the second-highest single-year increase in travelers since 2010 (2021 was the highest), bringing volumes almost in line with pre-pandemic levels. Despite historic gas prices, breaching the $4 mark in early March, 34.9 million people plan to travel by car, up 4.6% over last year. A greater portion of travelers are opting for air and other modes of travel than in previous years. Share of car travel fell from 92.1% last year to 88.9% this year, a slight indication that higher prices at the pump are having an impact on how people choose to travel this Memorial Day. Regardless of which mode they choose, travelers should prepare for a busy holiday weekend.

Big cities and beaches are top destinations
AAA booking data reveals that big cities and beaches are top destinations this Memorial Day, both domestically and abroad:

2022 Top Memorial Day Destinations
U.S Destinations  International Destinations 
Orlando Vancouver, Canada
Seattle Dublin
Miami Paris
Las Vegas Rome
Anaheim, CA London
New York Cancun, Mexico
Denver Amsterdam
Anchorage, AK Barcelona
Boston Nassau, Bahamas
Honolulu Calgary, Canada

Roads will be busy
INRIX predicts drivers will encounter the longest travel delays before the holiday weekend, particularly during the afternoons on Thursday, May 26 and Friday, May 27. Drivers in major U.S. metros could experience double the travel times compared to a normal trip.

“Even with a significant increase in gas prices, we expect a large jump in holiday driving compared to the last few years,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst, INRIX. “Drivers should expect congestion on major roadways around big cities and popular destinations. Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic.”