CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Americans who had to cancel getaways and get-togethers last year because of the pandemic are making up for lost time this holiday season. More than 109 million people — an almost 34% increase from 2020 — will travel 50 miles or more as they hit the road, board airplanes or take other transportation out of town between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2.
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That dramatic bounce-back — 27.7 million more travelers than the 2020 holiday period — brings this year’s numbers in line with 2017 figures, and just 8% shy of 2019 – which was the highest on record.
“Americans who canceled their vacations in 2020 want to gather with family and friends for the holidays this year, although they will still need to be mindful of the pandemic,” said Debbie Haas, Vice President, AAA – The Auto Club Group. “With vaccines widely available, conditions are much different and many people feel a greater level of comfort with travel this year.
|National Travel Figures|
|Total||Automobile||Air||Other (bus, train, cruise)|
|2021 Forecast||109.5 M||100.1 M||6.4 M||2.9 M|
|2020 Actual||81.7 M||78.5 M||2.3 M||0.98 M|
|2019 Actual||119.3 M||108 M||7.33 M||3.89 M|
|Change (2019 to 2021)||−8.2%||−7.3%||−12.6%||−24.8%|
|Change (2020 to 2021)||+33.9%||+27.6%||+184%||+198.7%|
More than 100 million on the roads and 6 million in the skies
Road trips remain the top mode of travel during the holidays, with over 100 million (91%) planning to drive to their destinations, despite gasoline costing $1.12 per gallon more than a year ago. Airlines will see a 184% increase from last year. More than 6 million people are expected to fly, while 3 million are booking buses, trains and cruises.
“Travelers should pay careful attention to Covid travel requirements, particularly those journeying outside the United States,” Haas continued. “The requirements to enter different countries may vary by destination and over time. Also, Americans should be aware that new rules require them to provide a negative Covid test within a day before reentering the U.S., regardless of their vaccination status. AAA stands ready to assist you in making travel plans with confidence, so you can sit back and enjoy your vacation.”
NORTH CAROLINA TRAVEL REBOUNDS 35%
North Carolina figures also show a strong rebound in travelers compared to the 2020 year-end holiday period. More than 3.1 million are forecast to travel between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2. Although that’s 4.2 percent fewer travelers than the record high set back in 2019, it’s still nearly 830,000 (35%) more than last year.
|North Carolina Travel Figures|
|Total||Automobile||Air||Other (bus, train, cruise)|
|Change (2019 to 2021)||−4.2%||−4.1%||−8.1%||−8.4%|
|Change (2020 to 2021)||+35%||+29%||+185%||+208%|
Higher prices this holiday season
With so many planning to travel, AAA suggests booking flights, car rentals, accommodations and other activities as early as possible.
Air — Recent analysis of AAA’s flight booking data revealed that ticket prices for Christmas week are up 5% from last year, with the average lowest round-trip fare of $154 for major U.S. destinations. For those flying around New Year’s, prices are up considerably more – 27% with the average lowest fare at $182. Those wanting to book last-minute travel will find the best fares about two weeks before their travel date but keep in mind availability may be limited.
Hotels — Mid-range hotel rates have increased 36% for AAA Approved hotels for Christmas travel, with an average nightly rate of $320. For New Year’s Eve, the average nightly rate is $267.
Car Rentals — The average car rental rate has increased 20% for Christmas travel, with the average lowest daily rate of $130. It has increased 65% for New Year’s, for an average lowest daily rate of $103. Rental car companies have been re-building their inventory following a shortage over the summer, but with the increased demand expected around this time of the year, it’s important to book as early as possible.
Plan ahead for road trips
|Daily Worst and Best Times to Travel|
|Date||Worst travel time||Best travel time|
|12/25/21||Minimal congestion expected|
|12/31/21||2:00–4:00pm||Before 1:00pm, after 5:00pm|
|1/1/22||Minimal congestion expected|
| || ||Source: INRIX|
Auto travel remains the preferred mode of transportation for 91% of holiday travelers. With nearly 650,000 more North Carolinians on the road compared to last year, AAA believes drivers in major metro areas could see more than double the delays versus typical drive times.
“Vehicles that have been driven less during the pandemic should get an inspection to check key components like the battery, fuel system, tires, brakes and fluid levels to avoid an unnecessary breakdown,” said Tiffany Wright, spokesperson, AAA – The Auto Club Group in the Carolinas. “It’s important to do this as early as possible in case there is an issue that needs to be fixed.”
Motorists can visit AAA.com/AutoRepair to find a certified AAA Approved Auto Repair Facility in their area.
Theme parks, beaches and Vegas are popular destinations
AAA booking data through October shows that domestically, theme-park-heavy destinations like Orlando, Florida, and Anaheim, California, top the list of popular travel spots. Las Vegas, New York City and several other Florida cities also rank high.
|Las Vegas, NV|
|New York, NY; Kahului, Maui, HI (tie)|
|Fort Lauderdale, FL|
|San Diego, CA|
ACG Travel VP Shares First-Hand Experience
Covid-related restrictions and requirements often change and vary by destination, especially for Americans who wish to travel internationally. ACG Travel Vice President Debbie Haas is currently on a European cruise, for a first-hand experience of how cruising has changed for American passengers.
“Cruise lines like AMAWaterways have implemented many new safety protocols that should help travelers feel more comfortable while sailing,” Haas explained. “Before boarding, passengers were asked to submit proof of vaccinations. Once on board, we’re required to wear masks when moving around indoors, undergo daily temperature checks, and meet any local requirements before disembarking. Despite these minor inconveniences, the overall experience of taking a cruise remains just as enjoyable as before.”
AAA Advice for Travelers
AAA urges anyone considering gathering or traveling for the holidays to consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance. It’s essential to know requirements and recommendations based on your vaccination status, where you’re traveling from and your destination.
A trusted travel advisor can provide advice, serving as an advocate before, during and after a trip. Their extensive knowledge and expertise allow them to help travelers with questions related to travel insurance options, what destinations and attractions are open both domestically and internationally, destination-specific testing and vaccination requirements, what to do if last-minute changes to a trip are needed and much more.
AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map helps travelers understand closures, recommendations and requirements when traveling in the U.S. In addition, the CDC has an interactive map with recommendations and information about restrictions for international travel.
Masks are still required for everyone on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of U.S. public transportation and within transportation hubs such as airports and stations. The CDC also recommends everyone wear a mask indoors in public places in an area of substantial or high transmission.
Other things to consider:
- Travel insurance — AAA highly recommends travel insurance to cover unexpected delays or trip interruptions. Travel insurance provides financial benefits for lost baggage and flight interruptions of as little as 3 hours. It is best to consult the expertise of a travel advisor who can guide you on the coverage options available for your specific trip, including if your destination requires visitors to carry travel insurance.
- Clean accommodations — When booking a place to stay, look for accommodations that prioritize cleanliness and have implemented additional housekeeping standards since the start of the pandemic. Hotels that meet AAA standards for cleanliness earn AAA Diamond designations. Earlier this year, as part of the Diamond program, AAA enhanced its housekeeping evaluation, and inspections now include objective, scientific validation of the cleanliness of common surfaces throughout hotels. Hotels that have been inspected since that new testing started and now meet these new standards are recognized as Inspected Clean. A current list of AAA Diamond hotels, including those recognized as Inspected Clean, can be found here.
- Domestic and international travel guidelines — When traveling within the U.S., fully vaccinated travelers do not need a negative viral test or to self-quarantine. For international travel, all air passengers, regardless of vaccination status or nationality, must show a negative COVID-19 viral test result taken no more than one day before travel into the U.S. Refer to the CDC for more information.