109 Million Americans Will Travel This Holiday Season

The top mode of transportation continues to be by vehicle.

December 15, 2021

Winter Road Trip

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Nearly 34% more people will travel 50 miles or more this holiday season than in 2020, reports AAA. More than 109 million people will hit the road, board airplanes or take other transportation out of town between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2.

The bounce-back in travel—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, senior vice president of AAA Travel. “With vaccines widely available, conditions are much different, and many people feel a greater level of comfort with travel.”

The top way to travel remains to be by vehicle, says AAA, with over 100 million people 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.

AAA says motorists should expect some slowdowns on the road, but 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, with drivers in New York City likely to experience more than three times the delays.

“With kids out of school and many Americans taking extended time off for the holidays, drivers will experience incremental delays throughout the week. Although congestion will be overall lighter than normal, knowing when and where major delays will likely happen will help save time and reduce stress this holiday season,” said Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst at INRIX.

The worst corridor and time to travel is in Atlanta at 3:45-5:45 p.m., followed by Boston at 1:45-3:45 p.m. Chicago, Detroit and Houston round out the top five.

The most popular travel destinations are theme-park-heavy destinations, with Orlando, Florida, topping the list. Followed by Anaheim, California; Las Vegas; New York City and Honolulu.

It’s more expensive to travel this year. 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.

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.

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.