Thanksgiving Travel Returns to Near Pre-Pandemic Levels

Ninety percent of Americans planning holiday trips will take to the roads this year.

November 12, 2021

Cars Traveling for Thanksgiving

WASHINGTON—AAA expects Thanksgiving travel to be close to pre-pandemic levels, according to a news release. AAA’s Auto Club Group predicts 53.4 million Americans will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, up 13% from 2020. This should bring travel volumes within 5% of pre-pandemic 2019 levels. This year’s forecast marks the highest single-year increase in Thanksgiving travelers since 2005.

Despite gasoline costing over a dollar more per gallon than this time last year, 90% of people who plan to travel say car is their preferred mode of transportation. AAA says road travel will increase by 8% this year, with 48.3 million people expected to travel via road. Daily car rental rates have increased 4% compared with last Thanksgiving. Over the summer, consumers experienced high costs and limited availability of rental cars in some markets.

Road travelers are expected to experience the worst congestion heading into the holiday weekend as commuters leave work early and mix with holiday travelers. Major metro areas across the U.S. could see more than double the delays versus typical drive times.

“It’s beginning to look more like a normal holiday travel season, compared to what we saw last year,” said Debbie Haas, vice president of travel for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Now that U.S. borders are open, vaccinations are readily available and new health and safety guidelines are in place, travel is once again high on the list for Americans who are ready to reunite with their loved ones for the holidays.”

Florida is seeing the closest rebound to pre-pandemic levels with travel figures only 2% less than pre-pandemic. AAA says that 2.9 million Floridians will travel for Thanksgiving, and higher than usual gas prices won’t keep them home. The average price for gasoline in Florida was $3.28 per gallon on Nov. 8. Thanksgiving gas prices haven’t been that high since 2013.

“Since many Floridians were unable to travel last year, it’s unlikely that higher gas prices will keep them from hitting the holiday road in 2021,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman, AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Gas prices do not typically make the difference of whether Floridians will or will not travel. However, they could impact how far some are willing to drive, while others may need to reallocate more of their travel budget to gasoline and spend less on meals, shopping and dining out.”

Many Americans will also be traveling to Florida, as Orlando is the No. 1 domestic destination for travelers this Thanksgiving.