Record Travel Expected as People Pledge to Head Home for Christmas

The lowest gas prices in three years and the generally upbeat nature of the economy are combining this holiday season for what could be record numbers of travelers taking to the road, skies and rails to celebrate the with family and friends according to the Auto Club.

AAA Michigan projects nearly 3.6 million residents will head for vehicles, planes and trains over the next two weeks, four percent more than last year, and the most since AAA has been tracking holiday travel. Those heading out will be among the 112.million Americans traveling more than 50 miles from home, also up four percent.

In Michigan, 91.5-percent of us will drive, 5.5-percent will fly, and 3-percent will travel by rail, bus, or cruise.  Those driving will enjoy lower gas prices. Wednesday's state average of $2.31 per gallon is 30-cents less than what drivers paid on Christmas Day 2017 a year ago; a savings of $4.50 for an average-size tank of gasoline.

Triple-A spokesman Nancy Cain says, “Low gas prices and a strong economy continues to drive demand for seasonal travel,” and notes, “With more Michiganians hitting the road than ever before, AAA urges drivers to reduce the risk of a holiday hazard. Get your vehicle inspected by a trusted mechanic, minimize distractions while behind the wheel, and do not drive intoxicated.”

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More than 102.1 million Americans (3.3 million Michiganders) will take a road trip. AAA expects an additional 4.3 million Americans to hit the holiday highway (140,000 more Michigan drivers).

AAA’s partner, INRIX – which analyzes traffic data – expects drive times in major metro areas to be up to four times longer than a normal trip. INRIX projects the worst day to drive through metro Detroit will be on Christmas Eve, with drivers experiencing delays up to three times longer than normal, between 2:00 - 3:00 pm.

Trevor Reed is Transportation Analyst for INRIX. He says, “With a record number of travelers hitting the road this holiday, drivers must be prepared for delays in major metro areas.” Reed adds, “Our advice is to avoid traveling during peak commuting hours. If schedules allow, leave bright and early, or after the morning commute.”

If pump prices remain at current levels, Michigan drivers will find the lowest holiday gas prices in three years. On Wednesday, the average gas price in Michigan was $2.31 per gallon, or 30-cents less than the average price on Christmas Day 2017, and 38-cents less than the average price on New Year’s Day.

Cain tells us, “Gas prices should be somewhat erratic over the next couple of weeks,” contending, “It appears pump prices are finally adjusting to the massive drop in the price of crude. From here, gas prices in Michigan could fluctuate through the holidays, but AAA does not forecast any major gains, unless oil prices suddenly surge.”

AAA forecasts the most holiday air travelers in 15 years. Of the nearly 6.7 million Americans who will fly, 196,644 of them are from Michigan– a year-over-year increase of 4.2-percent and 4.0-percent respectively. Compared to last year’s holiday, AAA expects an additional 140,000 Americans (7,575 Michiganians) to pass through the nation’s airports.

AAA recommends travelers arrive at the airport at least two hours before the scheduled departure of their flight. To expedite travel, AAA recommends travelers enroll in programs such as TSA PreCheck and Global Entry.

Airlines for America is projecting a more robust 45.7 million air passengers.  That's a stark contrast to AAA figures, and here are two reasons why:

  • AAA’s forecast measures only American leisure travelers, while Airlines for America also includes business and international travelers.
  • AAA counts individual air passengers, while Airlines for America counts enplanements. That means every time someone steps on a plane, A4A counts them as a traveler. If a person changes planes on the way to and from their destination, A4A would count them as four passengers, while AAA counts them as one.

An analysis of AAA’s flight booking data from the last three years revealed that most holiday air travelers depart two or three days before Christmas and return the day after the holiday. This holiday season, Saturday, December 22; Sunday, December 23; and Wednesday, December 26 will be the busiest days in the skies and at the airports. Fewer holiday travelers choose to fly on Christmas Eve (Monday, December 24) and Christmas Day (Tuesday, December 25), making those the lightest travel days around the Christmas holiday.

Most travelers booked their Christmas flights between October 26th and November 27th, paying an average ticket price of $561 round-trip. Last-minute planners who book between December 12-18 this year can expect to pay the lowest average airfares, at $488. However, those travelers risk encountering limited availability and their preferred flights may already be sold out.

Holiday road trippers should budget slightly more for a rental car this year, as daily rates have increased 3-percent over last year. At $76, the daily average car rental rate this holiday season is the most expensive in 10 years. Travelers will also pay a bit more at AAA Two Diamond hotels, where prices are 1-percent more than last year, or $122 per night. Conversely, the average rate for AAA Three Diamond hotels has fallen 3-percent to an average nightly cost of $152.

Warm-weather destinations are top draws in the winter months, occupying nine of the top 10 spots on the list of most popular holiday destinations, based on AAA’s online and travel agency air and tour bookings. The major cruise ports of Fort Lauderdale and Miami have both gained in popularity compared with last year, on the heels of a strong year for cruise sales. Meanwhile, New York City, the only cold-weather destination to make the top 10, can also expect a growing influx of travelers this holiday season.

  1. Orlando, Florida
  2. Cancun, Mexico
  3. Anaheim, California (Disneyland)
  4. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
  5. Montego Bay, Jamaica
  6. Honolulu, Hawaii
  7. New York, New York
  8. Kahului, Hawaii (Maui)
  9. Fort Lauderdale, Florida
  10. Miami, Florida

AAA expects to rescue more than 960,000 Americans at the roadside this year-end holiday period. Dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires will be the leading reasons AAA members will experience car trouble.

AAA recommends motorists take their vehicle to a trusted repair facility to perform any needed maintenance before heading out. Oil changes, fluid level checks, battery tests and tire inspections go a long way toward reducing the chances of a breakdown. Members who require roadside assistance can call the toll free number (800-222-4357 or 800-AAA-Help), or contact AAA via www.AAA.com or the AAA mobile app.

AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Markit. The London-based business information provider teamed with AAA in 2009 to jointly analyze travel trends during major holidays. AAA has been reporting on holiday travel trends for more than two decades.

AAA in Michigan celebrated its 100th Anniversary - A Century of Service in 2016 and has over 1.4 million members across the state. It is part of The Auto Club Group (ACG).

INRIX is the global leader in connected car services and transportation analytics. Leveraging big data and the cloud, INRIX delivers comprehensive services and solutions to help move people, cities and businesses forward. Learn more at INRIX.com.