WASHINGTON—This holiday season, 112.7 million people are expected` to travel 50 miles or more away from home December 23 to January 2, according to AAA.
Of that amount, nearly 102 million Americans will drive to their holiday destinations, which is two million more drivers than in 2021. Car travel is similar to 2018 numbers by slightly less than 2019 when 108 million Americans drove out of town for the holidays—the highest year on record.
According to AAA, the national average pump price has plunged 14 cents since last week to $3.26 a gallon, six cents less than a year ago. There are now about 34 states with average gasoline prices that are below last year’s average.
“The seasonal pattern of less driving due to shorter days and crummy weather, combined with a lower oil cost, is driving gas prices lower,” said Andrew Gross, AAA spokesperson.
Overall, 3.6 million more people are expected to travel this year than last year, and the amount is closing in on pre-pandemic numbers. The year is expected to be the third busiest for holiday travel since AAA began tracking in 2000.
“This year, travel time will be extended due to Christmas Day and New Year’s Day falling on Sundays,” says Paula Twidale, AAA’s senior vice president of travel. “With hybrid work schedules, we are seeing more people take long weekends to travel because they can work remotely at their destination and be more flexible with the days they depart and return.”
Air travel will see a 14% increase over last year, with nearly 7.2 million Americans expected to fly. AAA expects flights and airports to be packed this holiday season, reminiscent of pre-pandemic days. Demand for flights has surged despite higher airline ticket prices. AAA expects the number of people taking holiday flights this year will come close to matching 2019 when 7.3 million Americans traveled by air.
“If the distance is not reasonable to drive, more people are taking to the air to maximize the time spent at their destination,” Twidale adds. “Conversely, if the travel distances are reasonable and more than one or two people in the household are taking the trip, it may be more cost-effective to drive rather than buy multiple air tickets, rent a car and spend too much money before the fun even begins.”
Other modes of transportation are also rebounding. AAA estimates travel by bus, rail and cruise ship will rise to 3.6 million this holiday season, a 23% increase from last year and nearly 94% of 2019’s volume.
Road trips are embedded in American culture. In the December issue of NACS Magazine, read how the beginning of the U.S. highway system ultimately launched the convenience retailing landscape we know today in “The Worst Road Trip Ever.”