Americans who had to cancel getaways and get-togethers last year because of the pandemic are making up for lost time this holiday season. More than 109 million people — an almost 34% increase from 2020 — will travel 50 miles or more as they hit the road, board airplanes or take other transportation out of town between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2.
That dramatic bounce-back — 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.”
100 Million on the Roads
Road trips remain the top mode of travel during the holidays, with over 100 million planning to head to their destinations in cars despite gas costing $1.25 per gallon more than a year ago. More than 6 million people are expected to travel by air, while 3 million people are booking buses, trains and cruises.
Theme parks, beaches and Vegas are popular destinations. AAA booking data through October shows that domestically, theme-park-heavy destinations like Orlando, Fla., and Anaheim, Calif., top the list of popular travel spots. Las Vegas, New York City and several other Florida cities also rank high.
The over 100 million Americans planning to drive over the holidays need to be prepared for slowdowns and breakdowns. AAA expects to respond to as many as 917,000 calls for help.
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.
AAA notes that the actual number of travelers could fluctuate as we approach the holidays. Some people may decide to stay home if there is an increase in reported COVID-19 cases or because of concerns about the omicron variant, while others may note the progress in vaccinations and make last-minute decisions to travel.