AAA forecasts that more than one-third of Americans will travel this holiday season. The record-breaking 112.5 million travelers taking to the nation’s runways, roads and rails for the year-end holidays represents a 4.4% increase over last year and the most since AAA has been tracking holiday travel. For the more than 102 million people who will pack up their cars for a holiday road trip, INRIX predicts travel times in the most congested cities in the U.S. could be as much as four times longer than a normal trip. The year-end holiday travel period is defined as Saturday, December 22 through Tuesday, January 1, 2019. The 11-day span is one day longer than last year, due to Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on Tuesdays this year.
By the Numbers: 2018 Year-End Holiday Travel Forecast
- Automobiles: More Americans will travel by car this holiday season than ever before. The 102.1 million people expected to pack up their cars for road trips is 4.4% higher than last year. It is the most since AAA began tracking holiday travel in 2001.
- Planes: The 6.7 million people who will travel by air this year is the highest level since in 15 years and is 4.2% more than last year.
- Trains, Buses, and Cruise Ships: Travel across these sectors will increase by 4%, with a total 3.7 million passengers.
Based on historical and recent travel trends, INRIX expects drivers to experience the greatest amount of congestion before the holiday week – starting on Wednesday, December 19 – as commuters and holiday travelers mix on our nation’s busiest roadways. Drivers in Atlanta, New York City, Boston, and Houston will see travel times more than three times a normal trip.
|City||Worst Day to Travel||Worst Time for Travel||Delay Multiplier|
|Atlanta||Saturday, Dec. 22||3:00 – 4:00 PM||4x|
|New York City||Thursday, Dec. 20||9:30 – 10:30 PM||3.75x|
|Boston||Wednesday, Dec. 19||3:30 – 4:30 PM||3.5x|
|Houston||Wednesday, Dec. 19||12:15 – 1:15 PM||3.25x|
|Detroit||Monday, Dec. 24||2:00 – 3:00 PM||3x|
|Seattle||Wednesday, Dec. 19||4:00 – 6:00 PM||2.25x|
|Chicago||Monday, Dec. 24||1:30 – 2:30 PM||2.25x|
|Los Angeles||Thursday, Dec. 20||2:30 – 3:30 PM||2x|
|San Francisco||Friday, Dec. 21||4:15 – 5:15 PM||1.25x|
|Washington, DC||Thursday, Dec. 20||1:15 – 2:15 PM||2.75x|
Falling Gas Prices Motivating More Holiday Travelers to Drive: While gas has been relatively expensive throughout this year, a recent drop to the cheapest national gas price averages of the year, combined with rising disposable income, is motivating more Americans to hit the road this holiday season. Gas prices averaged $2.46 for the first week of December, which is two cents per gallon less than one year ago.
Best Times to Fly and Book Christmas Flights
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), which are the lightest travel days around the Christmas holiday.
|Day||3-Year Average Ticket Price||Expected Crowds|
|Saturday (Dec. 22, 2018)||$590||Heavy|
|Sunday (Dec. 23, 2018)||$564||Heavy|
|Monday (Dec. 24, 2018)||$512||Light|
|Tuesday (Dec. 25, 2018)||$564||Light|
|Wednesday (Dec. 26, 2018)||$666||Heavy|
Most travelers booked their Christmas flights between October 26th and November 27th, paying an average ticket price of $561 roundtrip. 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.
Car Rental Costs Reach 10-Year High, Hotel Prices Mixed
Holiday road trippers should budget slightly more for a rental car this year, as daily rates have increased 3% 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% more than last year, or $122 per night. Conversely, the average rate for AAA Three Diamond hotels has fallen 3% to an average nightly cost of $152.
Top 10 Year-End Travel Destinations
- Orlando, Florida
- Cancun, Mexico
- Anaheim, California (Disneyland)
- Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
- Montego Bay, Jamaica
- Honolulu, Hawaii
- New York, New York
- Kahului, Hawaii (Maui)
- Fort Lauderdale, Florida
- Miami, Florida
AAA to Rescue More Than 960,000 Motorists
AAA expects to rescue more than 960,000 motorists 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.