More Than 55M to Hit the Road for Thanksgiving

If you’ll be doing your turkey business on the road this year, away from home, you’ll have plenty of company to keep you occupied whether you’re driving or flying. In fact, more people have said they have Thanksgiving travel plans this year than any other year since 2005, which still holds the record in modern data compilations.

More than 55 million travelers are making plans to kick off the holiday season with a trip of 50 miles or more away from home this Thanksgiving, making it the second-highest Thanksgiving travel volume since AAA began tracking in 2000. It would trail only the record set in 2005.

Overall, an additional 1.6 million more people will travel compared with last year, a 2.9-percent increase. The vast majority of holiday travelers will drive to their destinations and, INRIX, a global transportation analytics company, expects Wednesday afternoon to be the worst travel period nationally, with trips taking as much as four times longer than normal in major metro regions.

In Illinois, nearly 3 million people will be traveling for the holiday weekend, which is a 2.9-percent increase from 2018. Of those travelers, more than 2.5 million will be driving (up 2.7-percent from 2018) and 246,000 will be flying to their destination (a 5.5-percent increase from 2018). Gas prices across Illinois are on average $2.63, down from $2.77 last month and down from $2.65 a year ago.

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In Indiana, more than 1.2 million people are expected to travel, which is up 2.7-percent from 2018. Of those travelers, 1.1 million are expected to travel by auto (2.5-percent increase) and almost 106,000 by air (5.2-percent increase). In Indiana, gas prices are on average $2.61 per gallon, up from $2.53 a month ago and was $2.49 this time last year. The average price nationally for gas is $2.61.

AAA did not provide individual projections for Michigan in the report released today.

Molly Hart is a spokesman for AAA. She says, “Millions of thankful Americans are starting the holiday season off right with a Thanksgiving getaway,” and adds, “Strong economic fundamentals are motivating Americans to venture out this holiday in near-record numbers. Consumer spending remains strong, thanks to increasing wages, disposable income and household wealth, and travel remains one of their top priorities for the holiday season.”

By the numbers: 2019 Thanksgiving travel forecast

  • Automobiles: 49.3 million travelers will hit the road this Thanksgiving, the most since 2005 and 2.8-percent more than last year.
  • Planes: With 4.6-percent growth, air travel will see the biggest increase in travel volume during the Thanksgiving holiday, with 4.45 million Americans expected to fly.
  • Trains, Buses and Cruise Ships: Travel by other modes will reach 1.49 million, a slight increase of 1.4-percent from 2018.

For the 49.3 million Americans traveling by automobile, INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts major delays throughout the week, peaking Wednesday with trips taking as much as four times longer as commuters mix it up with travelers.

Hart says, “With record levels of travelers, and persistent population growth in the country’s major metropolitan areas, drivers must prepare for major delays,” and adds, “Although travel times will peak on Wednesday afternoon nationally, travelers should expect much heavier than normal congestion throughout the entire week.”

Gas prices have been fluctuating as of late, but are currently trending a dime cheaper than the national average at this time last year, giving Americans a little extra money to spend on travel and motivating millions to take road trips. For the majority of Americans, AAA expects gas prices to be fairly similar to last year’s Thanksgiving holiday, which averaged $2.57.

Meanwhile, more than 368,000 motorists will call AAA for assistance at the roadside this Thanksgiving holiday. Dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts will be the leading reasons AAA members will experience car trouble. AAA recommends motorists take their vehicles to a trusted repair facility to perform any needed maintenance before heading out on a road trip. And remember to slow down and move over for stopped emergency vehicles at the roadside.

A recent analysis of AAA’s flight booking data from the last three years revealed that flying the Monday before the Thanksgiving travel rush is the best option for travelers. It has the lowest average ticket price ($486) prior to the holiday and is a lighter travel day than later in the week. Travelers can also save by traveling on Thanksgiving Day, which has the week’s lowest average price per ticket ($454).

Holiday road trippers should budget more for a rental car this year, as they have reached their highest prices on record for the Thanksgiving holiday since 1999, at $75 per day. Travelers will also pay a bit more at AAA Two Diamond hotels, where prices are 1-percent higher than last year, or $125 per night. Conversely, the average rate for AAA Three Diamond hotels has fallen 5-percent to an average nightly cost of $158.

The theme parks of Orlando and southern California, and other warm-weather destinations will see an influx of travelers looking to escape the start of winter. Florida is home to four of the top 10 destinations, and Hawaii twice graces the list of top destinations in the U.S. this Thanksgiving, based on advance AAA Travel bookings:

  1. Orlando, Florida
  2. Anaheim, California
  3. New York, New York
  4. Las Vegas, Nevada
  5. Honolulu, Hawaii
  6. Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
  7. Tampa, Florida
  8. Kahului, Maui, Hawaii
  9. Phoenix, Arizona
  10. Miami, Florida

For those travelers planning an international vacation for Thanksgiving, sandy beaches are their destinations of choice. Nassau, Bahamas…Cancun, Mexico…Punta Cana, Dominican Republic…and Montego Bay, Jamaica are AAA’s top international destinations this Thanksgiving, with Munich, Germany rounding out the top five.

AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Markit, a London-based business information provider. For the purposes of this forecast, the Thanksgiving holiday travel period is defined as the five-day period from Wednesday, November 26th to Sunday, December 1st.

In cooperation with AAA, IHS Markit developed a unique methodology to forecast actual domestic travel volumes, using macroeconomic drivers such as employment; output; household net worth; asset prices including stock indices; interest rates; housing market indicators and variables related to travel and tourism, including prices of gasoline, airline travel and hotel stays.