AAA forecasts 107.3 million Americans will take to planes, trains, automobiles and other modes of transportation during the year-end holiday period from Dec. 23 through Jan. 1. This will be the highest year-end travel volume on record and a 3.1 percent increase in travel volume compared with last year.
This year marks the ninth consecutive for rising year-end holiday travel. Since 2005, total year-end holiday travel volume has grown by 21.6 million, an increase of more than 25 percent. Across the board this year, travel has increased year-over-year for every major holiday weekend – Memorial Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving – and the same is projected for the year-end holiday period.
“Overall, our research shows that Americans are doing better than last year and want to go somewhere for the holidays,” said Vicky Evans, assistant vice president of AAA Travel. “Whether they are going home or visiting a new destination, Americans have more money to finance their travel plans, thanks to a stronger economy and growing consumer confidence.
“Depending on where your travels take you, consider using a travel agent to plan your final trip of the year. Of course, winter weather can be unpredictable, and cause unexpected issues like flight delays or cancellations. If that happens to you, the right travel insurance plan will help offset out-of-pocket expenses.”
By the numbers
• 107.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more, an increase of 3.2 million compared to last year.
• 2.5 million Tennesseans will travel 50 miles or more, an increase of 3.1 percent or 76,700 more people than last year.
• 97.4 million people will hit the road, a 3 percent year-over-year increase.
• 2.4 million Tennesseans will hit the road, a 3.1 percent increase or 72,400 more people than last year.
• 6.4 million people will travel by air, a 4.1 percent increase and the fourth year of consecutive air travel volume increases.
• 66,000 Tennesseans will travel by air during the holiday period, a 3 percent increase or 1,900 more people than last year.
• travel across these sectors will increase by 2.2 percent to 3.6 million.
• 90,000 Tennesseans will use these alternate modes of transportation, a 2.7 percent increase or 2,300 more people than last year.
Holiday headache hot spots
For the 97.4 million Americans traveling by automobile, INRIX, a global transportation analytics company, in collaboration with AAA, predicts travel times during the holiday week could be as much as three times longer than the normal trip.
Based on historical and recent travel trends, INRIX expects drivers will experience the greatest amount of congestion before the holiday week –Dec. 20-21 – in the late afternoon as commuters leave work early and mix with holiday travelers.
“With record-level travelers hitting the road this holiday, drivers must be prepared for delays in major metros,” said Graham Cookson, chief economist and head of research at INRIX. “Our advice to drivers is to avoid peak times altogether or consider alternative routes.”
Try to avoid traveling through major cities during peak travel times. The best times to leave are typically early morning or after the morning commute because the roads should be less crowded and you will have more time to get to your destination safely. If your schedule permits, traveling on the holiday itself often results in fewer cars on the road.
Pump Prices to Decline
The 90 percent of holiday travelers choosing to drive will find the most expensive year-end gas prices since 2014. December’s national average price is $2.47, which is 28 cents more than last December through Dec. 13. AAA does expect the average to drop at least another 5 cents by year-end, saving motorists a few pennies at the pump.
Airfare and hotel rates trend cheaper, car rentals increase year-over-year
• Airfares: Holiday airfares are nearly 20 percent cheaper than last year. At $165, the average end of year holiday airfare for a round-trip flight for the top 40 domestic routes is at a five-year low, according to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index. On average, 2017 airfares are 5 percent less expensive compared to 2016. Overall, competition, capacity, over-expansion and lower oil prices are contributing to the decline.
• Hotels: On average, a three-diamond hotel nightly rate is $156, a 2 percent year-over-year decrease. The two-diamond nightly average rate is $121, a 5 percent decrease from last year.
• Rental cars: Similar to Thanksgiving, car rental rates are more expensive on the year. At $74, the daily car rental rate increased 11 percent and set a new five-year record high rate for year-end holiday travel. The increase is on par with the rate increases seen at Thanksgiving.