The year-end holidays are usually a period that sees high demand for vacations. However, AAA Travel expects the vast majority of Americans to stay home this year, citing public health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic. AAA forecasts at least 34 million fewer Americans will travel compared to last year’s holiday season. That’s a decline of at least 29%. Even still, it’s possible that as many as 84.5 million Americans will take a trip of 50 miles or more, sometime between Dec. 23 through Jan. 3.
|2020 National Year-End Holiday Travelers|
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In Florida, the total number of projected holiday travelers is down nearly 30%. AAA forecasts nearly 4.5 million Floridians will travel 50 miles or more. That’s a decline of nearly 1.7 million people from last year.
|2020 Florida Year-End Holiday Travelers|
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“While Thanksgiving is traditionally spent gathering with friends and family, the year-end holidays are when Americans traditionally venture out for longer, more elaborate vacations. That will not be the case this year,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman, AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Public health concerns and official guidance to not travel will encourage the vast majority of Americans to stay home for the holidays.”
Travel Warnings and Advice
The CDC urges Americans not to travel for the holidays this year, warning that travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.
For those who make the personal decision to travel, it is important to understand the risks involved and take steps to keep yourself and others safe. Seek the advice of a trusted travel advisor and refer to AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map and TripTik.AAA.com for the latest state and local travel restrictions, and to help determine which rest stops, gas stations, restaurants and hotels are open along your route.
The Auto Club Group has integrated enhanced travel safety features into its AAA Mobile App, including location-based emergency contact numbers, doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, and medical translation services. These new features use geolocation and can be accessed in the AAA Mobile App Travel section titled “Local Services for Travelers.” These travel assistance services are available globally through ACG’s partnership with travel insurance provider Allianz Global Assistance.
What to Know Before You Go
Travel Figures Could be lower than Anticipated
Based on mid-October travel forecast models, AAA expected up to 50 million people would travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, which would have been a decline of 10% from 2019. While final Thanksgiving travel numbers are not yet available, AAA expects the decline to be closer to 15–20%, as the CDC and state and local authorities advised against holiday travel.
“Holiday travelers are continuing to take a wait-and-see approach to their travel decisions,” Jenkins continued. “With COVID-19 cases steadily increasing this month, the expected continued rise will likely prompt some Americans to make last minute decisions to not follow through with upcoming travel plans, which was the trend during the lead up to Thanksgiving.”
Road Trips Will Decline, but Remain Preferred Method of Travel
Most Americans who decide to travel will do so by car, with road trips accounting for 96% of holiday travel. Up to 81 million Americans will travel by car, a decline of at least 25% compared to last year. Auto travel is expected to replace some trips previously taken by bus, train or airplane, given the flexibility, security and comfort traveling by car provides.
Gas Prices could Hit 4-Year Lows for the Year-End Holidays
Those who decide to hit the road for the year-end holidays should find lower gas prices than last year. Florida drivers are paying an average price of $2.14 per gallon, which is 31 cents less than what drivers paid on Christmas Day 2019. If the state average remains below $2.21 per gallon on Christmas Day 2020, it’d be the lowest price for the holiday in four years. View daily gas prices at GasPrices.AAA.com.
“Lower gas prices and less traffic are not driving decisions of whether to hit the road this year. Instead, most Americans are basing their travel plans on the public health landscape, including COVID-19 case numbers,” Jenkins said.
AAA reminds those hitting the road to plan their route in advance and ensure their vehicle is ready for the road, to help avoid a breakdown along the way. AAA expects to rescue more than 905,000 Americans at the roadside this holiday season. AAA makes it easy to request assistance—by phone or text (1-800-AAA-HELP), app or online—and members can track the service technician’s progress as they make their way to your vehicle.
Congestion and Traffic Delays Expected During Holiday Afternoons
Traffic volume, and therefore traffic congestion, during the holiday week is expected to be less than in years past. However, travelers in major urban areas could still experience delays upwards of triple normal drive times at popular bottlenecks throughout the day. Nationwide, drivers could see travel times about 20% above normal pandemic congestion levels.
“Despite warnings, Thanksgiving traffic surged more than 30% above the daily pandemic average in some states,” said Bob Pishue, Transportation Analyst at INRIX. “We expect a similar increase around the upcoming winter holidays unless stricter travel restrictions are put in place and followed.”
Large Declines Expected by Air and Other Modes of Travel
Air Travel – More than 2.9 million travelers are expected to book flights for the holidays, a decline of nearly 60% from 2019. Air travelers can likely expect to pay lower airfares this holiday season, as AAA has seen double-digit reductions in average flight costs. AAA reminds air travelers to wear their mask, and wipe down seats, armrests, belt buckles and tray tables using disinfecting wipes, as an extra precaution.
Other Modes of Transportation – Up to 480,000 Americans are expected to travel by other modes, including bus and train this holiday season, a sharp decline of 88% as some bus and train trips will be shifted to car travel or cancelled.
Travel Forecast Methodology:
AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Markit, a London-based business information provider. For the purposes of this forecast, the year-end holiday travel period is defined as the period from Wednesday, Dec. 23 to Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. The 12-day holiday period is the same length as last year. This forecast was finalized during the week of Nov. 23.