AAA: More than 109M Americans to travel for the holidays

Americans who had to cancel getaways and get-togethers last year because of the pandemic are making up for lost time this holiday season. 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, according to AAA.

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.

“Americans who canceled their vacations in 2020 want to gather with family and friends for the holidays this year, although they will still be mindful of the pandemic and the new omicron variant,” said Paula Twidale, SVP, AAA Travel. “With vaccines widely available, conditions are much different, and many people feel a greater level of comfort with travel.”

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 more than 100 million planning to head to their destinations in cars despite gas costing $1.25 per gallon more than a year ago. More than six million people are expected to travel by air, while three million people are booking buses, trains and cruises.

2021 Year-end holiday travelers compared to previous years
Total Automobile Air Other (bus, train, cruise)
2021 Forecast 109.5 M 100.1 M 6.4 M 2.9 M
2020 Actual 81.7 M 78.5 M 2.3 M 0.98 M
2019 Actual  119.3 M 108 M 7.33 M 3.89 M
Change (2019-2021) −8.2% −7.3% −12.6% −24.8%
Change (2020-2021) 33.9% 27.6% 184% 198.7%

Theme parks, beaches and Vegas are popular destinations
AAA booking data through October shows that domestically, theme-park-heavy destinations like Orlando and Anaheim, CA, top the list of popular travel spots. Las Vegas, New York City and several other Florida cities also rank high.

U.S. destinations
Anaheim, CA
Las Vegas
New York; Kahului, Maui, HI (tie)
Fort Lauderdale, FL
San Diego

Higher prices this holiday season
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.