Despite higher gas prices, North Carolinians still expected to travel for Memorial Day holiday weekend

Consumer Watch

AAA predicts 60% more travelers than last year, still 14% below pre-pandemic levels

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – For the 1 million North Carolinians expected to travel by car this Memorial Day, gas prices are trending more than $1 higher than last year when demand plummeted as much of the country was under stay-at-home orders. Now, at $2.93, North Carolina gas price averages are 29 cents more than this time in May 2019.

“Many Carolinians are so eager to travel, we don’t expect higher gas prices to interfere with their plans,” said Tiffany Wright, spokesperson, AAA – The Auto Club Group in the Carolinas. “We typically find when pump prices increase, travelers look for more free activities or eat out less while on vacation, but still take their planned trips.”

North Carolina’s current gas price average ($2.93) saw a 20-cent increase on the week. This is 30 cents more expensive than a month ago and $1.22 more expensive than last year. Gas prices were expected to flirt with $3/gallon leading up to Memorial Day weekend, but last week’s shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline caused prices to spike weeks ahead of the holiday.

With the pipeline back in operation and supply being restored, gas prices will soon stabilize. AAA still urges drivers to fuel up responsibly. A surge in demand can exasperate supply problems. Consider combining trips, waiting until your tank reaches a half or quarter full before refueling. Letting your vehicle’s fuel tank run dry is more than just an inconvenience, it could also lead to costly mechanical problems down the road. AAA advises to keep an eye on your fuel level and fill up before arriving to your final destination. The AAA app can provide insight on gas prices and you can always call ahead to a station to confirm they are open for business.

Memorial Day Travel Volumes

AAA expects a significant rebound in the number of Americans planning to travel this Memorial Day holiday weekend. More than 37 million people are expected to travel 50 miles or more between May 27 and May 31. That’s a 60% increase from last year, when only 23 million traveled, the lowest on record since AAA began recording in 2000.

In North Carolina, 1.1 million residents are forecast to take a trip during the holiday weekend. That’s a 61% increase from last year, when fewer than 700,000 residents traveled, due to the pandemic.

North Carolina Memorial Day Travel Volumes

1.1 million
1 million
1.2 million
1.1 million

“A year’s worth of pent-up demand is being unleashed this summer, as Americans anticipate the kick off to the season,” said Debbie Haas, Vice President of Travel for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Travel bookings with AAA – The Auto Club Group have surged recently, setting the stage for what should be a busy holiday weekend and an exciting summer.”

“For many people, this will be their first summer vacation in two years, and things will look a little different,” Haas continued. “Because of the pandemic, many theme parks and hotels are running at reduced capacity, and some services are not currently available. Cruise lines are also accepting bookings, but their policies may vary based on whether you’re vaccinated. That’s why we encourage travelers to plan ahead and work with a trusted travel advisor, to ensure they get the best advice and value for their vacation.”

Significant Increases in AAA Travel Bookings

AAA Travel has noted significant increases in online traffic and bookings on, particularly for hotels and car rentals, heading into the summer travel season. AAA booking data reveal that domestic travel and road trips remain the biggest drivers of travel recovery in the near term. Orlando and Las Vegas are top Memorial Day destinations this year, both for AAA Travel bookings and TripTik road trip searches.

The top destinations include the following:
Road Trips:

  1. Las Vegas, NV
  2. Orlando, FL
  3. Myrtle Beach, SC
  4. Denver, CO
  5. Nashville, TN

AAA Travel Bookings:

  1. Orlando, FL
  2. Las Vegas, NV
  3. Honolulu, HI
  4. Anchorage, AK
  5. Colorado Springs, CO

When planning a trip, refer to the new AAA Digital TourBook guides, now available for destinations across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean at Available on smartphones, tablets, or desktops, the new interactive guides feature detailed destination information, must-see attractions, sample itineraries, and more.  

Huge Increase in Air Travel Expected, but Most Memorial Day Travelers to Take Road Trips

With 34 million Americans planning Memorial Day road trips, auto travel is expected to increase 52% compared to 2020. Nearly 12 million more Americans will travel by car this holiday than in 2020, though this is still 9% less than in 2019. More than 9 in 10 Memorial Day travelers will drive to their destinations, as many Americans continue to substitute road trips for travel via planes, trains and other modes of transportation. The TripTik travel planner on and in the AAA App include COVID travel restrictions for destinations, helping travelers plan road trips based on the latest requirements.

After a historically low year of air travel in 2020, this Memorial Day will see nearly 2.5 million Americans boarding airplanes, nearly six times more than last year (+577%). Still, 750,000 or 23% fewer people will take to the skies this holiday compared to 2019. AAA reminds air travelers that masks are required in all airports and on flights.

Meanwhile, just 237,000 Americans are expected to travel by other modes, including bus and train, this Memorial Day. This is the second-lowest volume on record, higher only than the 185,000 who traveled in 2020. In 2021, travel via these modes will be 88% below 2019 levels.

2021 Memorial Day Holiday Travelers (National Numbers)

(Bus, Train, Cruise)
2021 (Forecast)
2020 (Actual)*
2019 (Actual)
Change (2019 to 2021)
Change (2020 to 2021)

*AAA did not issue a Memorial Day holiday travel forecast in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, actual travel volumes were recorded after the holiday for comparison purposes this year.

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