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  • AAA:  Thanksgiving Travel Outlook

    AAA:  Thanksgiving Travel Outlook

    If you are planning to take a road trip this Thanksgiving, you're among the roughly 48 million people expected to do so, according to AAA's Thanksgiving Travel Forecast. That's up 8% over 2020,  but still down from pre-pandemic 2019 levels.

    Overall Thanksgiving Travel Prediction: Up 13%

    The American Automobile Association predicts that overall, more than 53 million people will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday,  up 13% over last year - bringing travel volumes within 5% of pre-pandemic levels in 2019.  AAA says its forecast marks the highest single-year increase in Thanksgiving travelers since 2005. 

    The biggest increase in travelers will be those choosing to fly. AAA says air travel will almost completely recover from its dramatic fall during the pandemic, predicting it will be up 80% over last year.  

    “This Thanksgiving, travel will look a lot different than last year,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel. “Now that the borders are open and new health and safety guidelines are in place, travel is once again high on the list for Americans who are ready to reunite with their loved ones for the holiday.”

    Researchers say with a total of 6.4 million more people traveling this Thanksgiving  coupled with the recent opening of the U.S. borders to fully vaccinated international travelers— everyone should be prepared to see noticeably more crowded roads and highways.  Researchers encourage travelers to be proactive when making their plans this year as restrictions continue to lift and consumer confidence builds.


    2021 Thanksgiving Holiday Travelers
      Total Automobile Air Other


    (Bus, Train, Cruise)

    2021 Forecast 53.4M 48.3M 4.2M 1M
    2020 Actual 47.1M 44.5M 2.3M 281,000
    2019 Actual 56M 49.9M 4.6M 1.5M

    Change YOY

    2019 to 2021

    −5% −3% −9% −31%

    Change YOY

    2020 to 2021

    +13% +8% +80% +262%

    *Source: AAA

    “International travel re-opening will allow people to reconnect with friends and family and explore new places, while also giving a much-needed boost to the economy,” continued Twidale. “But it also means airports will be busier than we’ve seen, so travelers must plan for long lines and extra time for TSA checks.”

    CDC Holiday Travel Recommendations

    With the COVID pandemic ongoing, no travel post is complete without the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) recommendations for holiday gatherings and related travel. The CDC says that the best way to minimize COVID-19 risk is to get vaccinated if you’re eligible. However, everyone’s situation is unique and therefore, AAA urges anyone considering gathering or traveling for Thanksgiving to consult CDC guidance before finalizing holiday plans.

    “International travel re-opening will allow people to reconnect with friends and family and explore new places, while also giving a much-needed boost to the economy,” continued Twidale. “It also means airports will be busier than we’ve seen, so travelers must plan for long lines and extra time for TSA checks.”

    11/22/21 Gas Prices  

    Those who opt to travel by road will see higher gas prices than over the holiday last year. Currently as of November 22, AAA reports a national gas average of $3.40 -- 3 cents more than a month ago and $1.29 more than a year ago, and 81 cents more than in 2019.


    Travel Tips

    AAA says 90% of people plan to travel by car as their preferred mode of travel. Although road trips is the most popular travel choice, researchers predict that travel by air, bus, train or cruise this year will also increase this year.  AAA provides these tips to navigate the new travel landscape:

    Be Proactive. Book flights, car rentals, accommodations and other activities as early as possible. Prices are not going down and are still somewhat impacted by the limited capacity of flights and staffing challenges faced by many industries. Consider working with a travel advisor who can make any last-minute changes to travel plans, explore travel insurance options and help plan a trip that meets your needs and comfort level this holiday season.

    • Air—Even with air travel seeing a boost this year, AAA finds that the average lowest airfare is 27.3% less than last year coming in at $132. Tuesday and Wednesday are still the most expensive and heaviest travel days with Monday being the lightest and least expensive. Those wanting to book last-minute travel will find the best fares about two weeks prior to Thanksgiving but keep in mind availability may be limited.
    • Hotels—Mid-range hotel rates have increased about 39%, with average nightly rates ranging between $137 and $172 for AAA Approved Hotels.
    • Car Rentals—Daily car rental rates have increased 4% compared to last Thanksgiving at $98. Over the summer, consumers experienced high costs and limited availability of rental cars in some markets, due to the semi-conductor chip shortage impacting automakers. While this shortage has subsided, it is possible it could return as the holidays near.

    Be Patient. The roads and airports will be busy so plan ahead.

    • Arrive at the airport early so you’ll have plenty of time to get through longer TSA lines and other travel checkpoints. For domestic travel, AAA suggests 2 hours ahead of departure time and 3 hours for international.
    • Consider booking a flight during non-peak travel periods to cut down on wait times.
    • Hit the road when there’s less traffic and allow for extra time when traveling to your destination.

    Be Prepared. For the 48.3 million Americans hitting the road, make sure you and your vehicle are ready for the trip ahead as AAA says it expects to respond to over 400,000 for help over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.  You'll want to follow our Car Pro tips for getting your car ready for winter, which includes checking tires, fluid, and batteries as well as packing an emergency kit.

    Be Protected—Both You and Your Trip.  If you plan to travel during the holidays, it’s essential to do so safely and understand how to protect yourself, your loved ones and your investment while traveling. Also, as travel restrictions remain in flux, it’s essential to know requirements and recommendations based on your vaccination status, where you’re traveling from and your destination. AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map and TripTik.AAA.com are also helpful resources travelers may use for free to understand closures, recommendations and requirements when traveling in the U.S.

    • Travel insurance—AAA highly recommends travel insurance to cover unexpected delays or trip interruptions. It's 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. Earlier this year, as part of its Diamond designation, AAA enhanced its housekeeping evaluation to include objective, scientific validation of the cleanliness of common surfaces throughout hotels. Hotels that meet these new standards are now recognized as Inspected Clean and a current listing can be found here.
    • Safe travel = smart travel—Everything from airports to restaurants to attractions will be busier this Thanksgiving, which means more people congregating. Masks are still required for everyone on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations. The CDC also recommends everyone wear a mask indoors in public if they are in an area of substantial or high transmission.
    • Domestic and international travel guidelines—As of November 8, the U.S. opened its borders to fully vaccinated travelers. The CDC has updated its guidance to reflect these changes. When traveling within the U.S., fully vaccinated travelers do not need a negative viral test or to self-quarantine. For international travel, refer to the CDC for specific guidelines.

    Where Travelers Are Headed

    Here's a look at the top travel destinations both domestically and an international according to AAA:

    2021 Top Thanksgiving Destinations

    U.S Destinations 

    International Destinations 

    Orlando, FL

    Cancun, Mexico

    Anaheim, CA

    Montego Bay, Jamaica

    Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX


    Phoenix, AZ

    Los Cabos, Mexico

    Honolulu, HI

    Nassau, Bahamas

    Kahului, Maui, HI

    St. Lucia, West Indies

    Atlanta, GA

    Dublin, Ireland

    Tampa, FL

    (tie) Tel Aviv, Israel and Calgary, Canada

    Ft. Lauderdale, FL

    Paris, France

















    *Source: AAA


    Busy Roads 

    For those of you hitting the road,  AAA, in collaboration with INRIX, says major metro areas could see more than double the delays versus typical drive times, with drivers in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and New York City likely to experience more than three times the delays.

    “Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips and this year will be no different even during the pandemic,” says Bob Pishue, Transportation Analyst, INRIX. “Drivers around major metros must be prepared for significant delays, especially Wednesday afternoon. Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic.”

    Worst Corridors and Times to Travel

    Metro Area


    Peak Congestion

    % Over Normal


    I-85 S, Clairmont Rd to MLK Dr

    Wed, 1:30 – 3:30PM



    I-93 N, Quincy Market to MA-28

    Wed, 1:00 – 3:00PM



    I-290 W, Morgan St to Wolfe Rd

    Wed, 2:45 – 4:45PM



    I-96 W, 6 Mile Rd to Walled Lake

    Wed, 2:00 – 4:00PM



    I-10 W, Sjolander Rd to TX-330

    Wed, 3:15 – 5:15PM


    Los Angeles

    I-5 S, Colorado St to Florence Ave

    Wed, 3:45 – 5:45PM


    New York

    I-495 E, Borden Ave to Little Neck Pkwy

    Wed, 2:30 – 4:30PM


    San Francisco

    I-80 E, I-580 to San Pablo Dam Rd

    Wed, 4:00 – 6:00PM



    I-5 S, WA-18 to WA-7

    Wed, 4:00 – 6:00PM


    Washington DC

    I-95 S, I-395 to VA-123

    Wed, 2:00 – 4:00PM


    *Source: INRIX


    Daily Worst and Best Times to Travel


    Worst Time

    Best Time


    12:00 – 8:00PM

    After 9:00PM


    12:00 – 3:00PM

    Before 11:00AM


    1:00 – 4:00PM

    Before 11:00AM


    2:00 – 7:00PM

    Before 12:00PM


    1:00 – 7:00PM

    Before 12:00PM

    *Source: INRIX

    Photo Credit:  AAA