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Expect record travel during holiday season

Crowded Airport (Floris Van Cauwelaert/WikiCommons)
December 20, 2019

More Americans than ever on record – 115.6 million – will travel this holiday season, from Dec. 21 through Jan. 1. That is the most in nearly 20 years since AAA began tracking in 2000, and represents an increase of 3.9% over last year. This means that 4.3 million more people packing up their sleighs for a holiday getaway.

More than 104 million of these holiday travelers will drive to their destinations and, INRIX, a global transportation analytics company, expects delays to be the worst on Dec. 26, with afternoon delays reaching nearly double congestion-free drive times in major U.S. cities.

“Holiday cheer is at an all-time high this year, with unemployment at historically low levels, and noted improvements in both disposable income and household net worth,” Paula Twidale, vice president of AAA Travel, said in a news release. “Travelers should be getting used to crowded highways and airports, as this marks the eighth straight year of new record-high travel volumes for the year-end holidays.”

By the numbers: 2019 Year-End Holiday Travel

Total numbers of travelers:

National: 115.6 million travelers

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Automobiles:

More Americans than ever on record will drive this holiday season.

National: 104.8 million; 3.9% more than last year.

Planes:

National: 6.97 million people will take to the skies, the highest number on record since 2003; 4.9% more than last year.

Trains, Buses and Cruise Ships:

National: 3% increase to 3.81 million passengers

For the 104.8 million Americans traveling by automobile, INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts only marginal delays throughout the holiday week. Nationally, drivers could experience double the travel times on Thursday and Friday afternoon, although New York City and Washington, D.C. could see triple the delays.

“With kids out of school and many Americans taking extended time off for the holidays, drivers will experience only incremental delays throughout the week,” Trevor Reed, a transportation analyst at INRIX, said. “Although congestion will be lighter than normal, knowing when and where major delays will likely happen will help save time and reduce stress this holiday season.”

The holidays can be a stressful time; AAA encourages drivers to maintain a cool head, and focus on reaching their destination safely. AAA offers these tips to help prevent road rage:

  • Do Not Offend: Never cause another driver to change their speed or direction. That means not forcing another driver to use their brakes, or turn the steering wheel in response to something you have done.
  • Be Tolerant and Forgiving: The other driver may just be having a really bad day. Assume that it is not personal.
  • Do Not Respond: Avoid eye contact, don’t make gestures, maintain space around your vehicle and contact 9-1-1 if needed.

Gas prices have been fluctuating as of late, but are currently cheaper than the national average at this time last year, giving Americans a little extra money to spend on travel and motivating millions to take road trips. For the majority of Americans, AAA expects gas prices to be fairly similar to last year’s Thanksgiving holiday, which averaged $2.57.

Meanwhile, more than 368,000 motorists will call AAA for assistance at the roadside this Thanksgiving holiday. Dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts will be the leading reasons AAA members will experience car trouble. AAA recommends motorists take their vehicles to a trusted repair facility to perform any needed maintenance before heading out on a road trip. Also, remember to slow down and move over for stopped emergency vehicles at the roadside.

Gas prices steadily declined in November, paving the way for even cheaper prices for the year-end holidays. AAA expects most motorists to see gas prices drop before the new year, but will likely be slightly more expensive than last December’s national gas price average of $2.37.

Beginning Oct. 1, a REAL ID compliant driver’s license, ID card, passport or an acceptable alternative ID approved by the TSA will be required to board a domestic commercial flight. AAA urges travelers to apply now for a REAL ID compliant driver’s license in preparation for the October 2020 Deadline. To apply for a REAL ID, Georgians will need visit a participating Georgia Department of Driver Services- Real ID and bring supporting documentation including: one proof of citizenship or legal presence, one proof of full Social Security Number, and two proofs of Georgia residency along with documentation to support any name change from your proof of citizenship document. A full list of accepted documents can be found here.

A recent analysis of AAA’s flight booking data revealed that most travelers depart two to four days prior to the Christmas holiday, Dec. 21-23, with the 22nd being the single busiest air travel day of the holiday week. These travelers, on average, pay ticket prices between $593 and $639. Christmas Eve is the best day to travel, with the lowest average price per ticket ($527) and the fewest crowds of the holiday week. Many travelers opt to fly after the Christmas holiday leading up to New Year’s, and they pay a premium to do so. Dec. 26 has the highest average ticket price of the week at $692.

Travelers will need to budget more for car rentals this holiday season. According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, the daily average rental rate this Christmas and New Year’s will reach $84, 11% more than last year and the highest price in 10 years. AAA Three Diamond hotel prices have increased 1% to $153, while AAA Two Diamond hotels will average $119, 2% less than last year.

Theme parks in Orlando and southern California, other warm-weather locales, and the iconic holiday destination New York City top the list of 10 most popular destinations in the U.S. for the year-end holidays, based on advance AAA Travel bookings:

Many travelers are also seeking warm weather and sandy beaches in Mexico and the Caribbean this holiday season. Cancun, Mexico; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; Montego Bay, Jamaica; Los Cabos, Mexico; and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, are AAA’s top five international destinations for the year-end holidays.

The Auto Club Group is the second-largest AAA club in North America. ACG and its affiliates provide membership, insurance, financial services and travel offerings to more than 9.9 million members across 11 states and two U.S. territories including Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands; most of Illinois and Minnesota; and a portion of Indiana. Learn more at AAA.com/mobile. Visit AAA on the Internet at AAA.com.

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© 2019 The Albany Herald