As the U.S. approaches its second holiday season in the pandemic and its first since COVID-19 vaccines have been available, Americans are doing their best to get back to normal. More than four in 10 (42%) plan to travel between Thanksgiving and mid-January, taking an average of two trips, according to the 2021 Deloitte holiday travel survey. High-income Americans’ suitcases will see even more action—53% plan to travel and a third of those who do will take three or more trips.
Yet COVID-19 remains a key factor in travel-related decision-making. Since leisure travel began its comeback on the heels of the vaccine rollout in early 2021, it has been clear that there is pent-up demand, but travelers proceed with caution. This holiday season, COVID-19 concerns will play a role in where they go, how they get there, where they stay and what they do in the destination.
Americans largely embrace measures to mitigate COVID-19 transmission while traveling. Despite news stories of unruly passengers refusing to wear masks, two-thirds of travelers say they are more likely to fly if masking is required, while 10% say they are less likely. A slightly smaller share, 58%, say they would embrace proof of vaccination to fly. And that figure is even higher for high-income and frequent travelers.
Most travelers expect to spend as much as or more than they did in 2019 on their longest trip of the holiday season. But more say they plan to decrease their spend compared to findings from the 2021 Deloitte Summer Travel Survey. The budget tightening is especially prominent among lower-income households. Meanwhile, high-income households have high hopes for their holiday trips—85% plan to match or exceed their 2019 budgets. Half expect to spend more than $5,000 on their longest holiday trip, while half of lower income travelers will spend less than $1,000.
This income bifurcation is concerning for hotels and airlines that rely on high volume from a broad swath of the market. Another group whose travel plans lag the overall population is Americans over 55. These older travelers frequently cite health worries as a reason to stay home or otherwise adjust plans. And regardless of age or income, very few plan to travel abroad—just 10% of all travelers plan to take an international flight. Clearly, the health and financial impacts of COVID-19 continue to challenge holiday travel aspirations, but Americans intend to make the best of the season.
A representative sample of 6,512 Americans took this survey from Sept. 9-23. Of those, 2,759 qualified as travelers. A smaller subset of 1,501 who were staying in paid lodging, rather than only with friends and relatives, completed the longest version of the survey. For more insights, download the slide deck, 2021 Deloitte holiday travel survey: How Americans plan to explore and reconnect.