WASHINGTON—This Thanksgiving holiday, 54.6 million Americans are planning to travel 50 miles or more away from their homes, according to AAA. The amount is 1.5% more than travelers during last year’s Thanksgiving festivities and 98% of pre-pandemic volumes. AAA is predicting 2022 will be the third busiest year for Thanksgiving travel since AAA started tracking in 2000.
“Families and friends are eager to spend time together this Thanksgiving, one of the busiest for travel in the past two decades,” said Paula Twidale, AAA’s senior vice president of travel. “Plan ahead and pack your patience, whether you’re driving or flying.”
AAA finds that most travelers will reach their destinations by car, which is similar to last year. Nearly 49 million people are expected to drive, and while Thanksgiving road trips have slightly risen—up 0.4% from 2021—car travel remains 2.5% below 2019 levels.
INRIX expects severe congestion in several U.S. metro areas, with some drivers experiencing more than double normal delays. Highways in and around Atlanta, Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles will be the busiest. To avoid the most hectic times, INRIX recommends traveling early in the morning on Wednesday or before 11 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day and avoiding travel between 4 and 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips, and this year will be no different,” says Bob Pishue, transportation analyst, INRIX. “Although travel times will peak on Wednesday afternoon nationally, travelers should expect much heavier than normal congestion throughout the holiday weekend. Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic.”
Air travel is up nearly 8% over 2021, with 4.5 million Americans flying to their Thanksgiving destinations this year. That’s an increase of more than 330,000 travelers and nearly 99% of the 2019 volume. “Airport parking spaces fill up fast, so reserve a spot ahead of time and arrive early,” Twidale suggests. “Anticipate long TSA lines. If possible, avoid checking a bag to allow for more flexibility if flights are delayed or you need to reschedule.”
Americans are also ramping up travel by other modes of transportation. More than 1.4 million travelers are going out of town for Thanksgiving by bus, train or cruise ship. That’s an increase of 23% from 2021 and 96% of the 2019 volume. “With travel restrictions lifted and more people comfortable taking public transportation again, it’s no surprise buses, trains and cruises are coming back in a big way,” Twidale adds. “Regardless of the mode of transportation you have chosen, expect crowds during your trip and at your destination. If your schedule is flexible, consider off-peak travel times during the holiday rush.”
AAA recently revealed the top 10 domestic travel destinations for the Thanksgiving holiday. Two theme-park destinations top the list this year—Orlando and Anaheim—as they did in 2019 and 2021, while Chicago and Charlotte are two new additions to the top 10.
“Thanksgiving is all about spending time with family and friends, so it’s no surprise that theme park destinations top the list, with entertainment and meals accessible within a resort,” said Twidale. “Chicago and Charlotte join Atlanta as hub cities for the three largest airlines—American, Delta and United—and will see lots of activity this holiday season, as airline routes and direct flights are limited, and staff shortage still exists.”
According to IRI, big Thanksgiving celebrations are back this year, with 76% of consumers reporting they plan to celebrate the holiday like they did before the COVID-19 pandemic. The average number of people at the Thanksgiving table will be close to eight, and that number jumps to 9.8 for Gen Z and younger millennials (those under 32). The oldest consumers, seniors and retirees anticipate six people at their tables.
While people are hosting larger meals, inflation is a top concern for consumers, and 38% expect to pay more for groceries this year but intend to buy the same amount of food. IRI reports that traditional Thanksgiving meal items are estimated to cost 13.5% more than they did a year ago.
In response to high inflation, retailers are discounting holiday meal items, including Pilot Flying J and Love’s Travel Stops.
Overall, food and beverage costs were up 13.3% year over year in October. Additionally, this year could become the worst year ever of avian flu outbreaks for poultry, skyrocketing turkey prices. Wholesale turkey prices are at $1.79 a pound in October, which is 40 cents higher than last year’s peak. (Walmart is keeping whole turkeys at $1 a pound.) IRI research shows pies and side dishes are up 19.6% and 18.8%, respectively.