AAA: At Least 34 Million Fewer Americans To Travel This Holiday Season

Three-quarters of Americans are expected to stay home; AAA advises caution for those who decide to travel.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (News Release) – The holidays are a period that typically sees high demand for vacations; however, AAA Travel expects the vast majority of Americans to stay home this holiday season, citing public health concerns and travel restrictions are influencing their decisions not to travel over the year-end holidays.

AAA forecasts at least 34 million fewer travelers compared to last year’s holiday season, a decline in travel of at least 29% – although as many as 84.5 million Americans may still travel from Dec. 23 through Jan. 3.

In North Carolina, the total number of projected holiday travelers is down nearly 30% – a decline of almost 1.1 million travelers and a significant cutback compared to 2019. South Carolina’s decline is roughly 480,000 travelers compared to 2019.

“While Thanksgiving is traditionally spent gathering with friends and family, the year-end holidays are when Americans often venture out for longer, more elaborate vacations. That won’t be the case this year,” said Tiffany Wright, spokesperson, AAA – The Auto Club Group in the Carolinas. “Public health concerns, official guidance not to travel, and an overall decline in consumer sentiment have encouraged the vast majority of Americans to stay home for the holidays.”

Travel Warnings and Advice

The CDC urges Americans not to travel for the holidays this year, warning that travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.

For those who make the personal decision to travel, it is important to understand the risks involved and take steps to keep yourself and others safe. Seek the advice of a trusted travel advisor and refer to AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map and TripTik.AAA.com for the latest state and local travel restrictions, and to help determine which rest stops, gas stations, restaurants, and hotels are open along your route.

What to Know Before You Go

  • Plan Ahead. Check with state and local authorities where you are, along your route, and at your planned destination to learn about local circumstances and any restrictions that may be in place.
  • Follow Public Health Guidance. The CDC recommends taking a COVID test one to three days before travel and another three to five days after travel, plus reducing non-essential activities for seven days after travel. Travelers should be aware of these and other local and state travel restrictions, including testing requirements and quarantine orders, and additional CDC guidance for before, during, and after their travels. Consistent use of face masks combined with social distancing (at least 6 feet) and regular handwashing are the best ways to lower your risk of contracting COVID-19. Be sure to pack face masks, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, and a thermometer to help protect and monitor your health. Also, pack water and extra snacks to reduce the need to stop along your trip.
  • Verify Before You Go. Call ahead to minimize any last-minute surprises.
  • Hotels. Prior to any hotel stay, call ahead to ensure your hotel is open and ask what precautions they are taking to protect guests. Ask about social distancing protocols like capacity reductions in common spaces, hotel staff requirements to wear masks at all times, and if all amenities are available, like restaurant dining. For added peace of mind, visit AAA.com/Travel to search AAA Diamond-rated properties that earned AAA’s Best of Housekeeping Awards.
  • Car Rentals. If renting a car, ask what has been done to clean the vehicle. Hertz, for example, has introduced Hertz Gold Standard Clean, an enhanced vehicle disinfectant and sanitization process. For extra peace of mind, use disinfecting wipes to wipe down door handles, steering wheels, shifters, and control panels.
  • Helpful AAA Resources. Visit AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map for the latest state and local travel restrictions.

Holiday travelers are continuing to take a wait-and-see approach to their travel decisions. With COVID‑19 cases steadily increasing this month, the expected continued rise will likely prompt some Americans to make last-minute decisions to not follow through with upcoming travel plans, which was the trend during the lead up to Thanksgiving.

Based on mid-October travel forecast models, AAA expected up to 50 million people would travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, which would have been a decline of 10% from 2019. While final Thanksgiving travel numbers are not yet available, AAA expects the decline to be closer to 15–20%, as the CDC and state and local authorities advised against holiday travel.

Road Trips Will Decline but Remain Preferred Method of Travel

Most Americans who decide to travel will do so by car, with road trips accounting for 96% of holiday travel. Up to 81 million Americans will travel by car, a decline of at least 25% compared to last year. Auto travel is expected to replace some trips previously taken by bus, train, or airplane, given the flexibility, security, and comfort traveling by car provides.

For those who decide to hit the road for the year-end holidays, gas prices remain nearly 50 cents cheaper than this time last year. Recent monthly gas prices are 19% below 2019 averages.

North Carolina’s current gas price average sits at $1.99 – this is 2 cents more than a month ago and 37 cents cheaper than a year ago. South Carolina’s current gas price average sits at $1.91 – this is 2 cents more than a month ago and also 37 cents cheaper than a year ago.

AAA reminds those hitting the road to plan their route in advance and ensure their vehicle is ready for the road, to help avoid a breakdown along the way. AAA expects to rescue more than 905,000 Americans at the roadside this holiday season. AAA makes it easy to request assistance—by phone or text (1-800-AAA-HELP), app or online—and members can track the service technician’s progress as they make their way to your vehicle.

INRIX Predicts Increased Delays during Holiday Afternoons

Traffic volume, and therefore traffic congestion, during the holiday week, is expected to be less than in years past. However, travelers in major urban areas could still experience delays upwards of triple normal drive times at popular bottlenecks throughout the day. Nationwide, drivers could see travel times about 20% above normal pandemic congestion levels.

Large Declines Expected by Air and Other Modes of Travel

As many as 2.9 million travelers are expected to book flights for the holidays, a decline of nearly 60% from 2019. Air travelers can likely expect to pay lower airfares this holiday season, as AAA has seen double-digit reductions in average flight costs. AAA reminds air travelers to wear their masks, and wipe down seats, armrests, belt buckles, and tray tables using disinfecting wipes, as an extra precaution. Meanwhile, up to 480,000 Americans are expected to travel by other modes, including bus and train this holiday season, a sharp decline of 87% as some bus and train trips will be shifted to car travel or canceled.