AAA: holiday travel to rise 2.2%, remain below 2019 levels

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 369 views 

The second-highest number of Americans are expected to travel over the holidays amid the lowest gas prices in nearly a year, according to AAA. Over the holidays, 115.2 million people are expected to travel at least 50 miles from home, up 2.2% from last year.

Since 2000, AAA has projected holiday travel, and the holiday travel period in 2019 is expected to remain the busiest, with 119 million travelers. This year, the AAA based its forecast on the 10-day holiday travel period from Dec. 23 to Jan. 1.

“This year-end holiday forecast, with an additional 2.5 million travelers compared to last year, mirrors what AAA Travel has been observing throughout 2023,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel. “More Americans are investing in travel, despite the cost, to make memories with loved ones and experience new places.”

The number of holiday travelers driving to their destinations is projected to rise by 1.8% to 104 million motorists from 2022. Compared to 2019, the number is down by 4.1% from 108 million motorists.

The price for a gallon of gas is expected to be flat from last year, when the U.S. average was $3.10 and $3.20 on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, respectively. As of Thursday (Dec. 14), Arkansas motorists were paying the fifth-lowest average price in the United States at $2.70 a gallon. That’s 9 cents less than last week and 7 cents less than this day last year.

“It’s been nearly a year since the statewide average was $2.70 per gallon for regular unleaded,” said AAA spokesman Nick Chabarria. “While prices will likely keep falling, fluctuations remain possible due to the busy year-end holiday travel period around the corner.”

Though vehicle travel isn’t expected to exceed 2019 levels this holiday, other modes of travel will, including travel by air, bus, train and cruise.

AAA projects 7.5 million air travelers this holiday, surpassing the record 7.3 million passengers in 2019. Average ticket prices are lower than last year. According to AAA booking data, a roundtrip ticket to Orlando, Fla., this holiday fell to $613 from $735 at the same time last year. Over the same period, a roundtrip ticket to Las Vegas declined to $508 from $705.

The booking data shows the top holiday destinations are Orlando, Anaheim, Calif., and Chicago. Top international destinations include London, St. Thomas of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Aruba.

The number of those traveling by other modes, such as bus, train and cruise, is expected to rise to a record 4 million this holiday. Travel by alternative modes is projected to be up from 3.66 million last year and 3.89 million in 2019.

According to transportation data provider INRIX, the most congested travel days for motorists will be Dec. 23 and Dec. 28. The worst travel time on Dec. 23 is from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The worst travel times from Dec. 26 to Dec. 30 are in the afternoons and evenings. The best travel times are before lunchtime or after 7 p.m.