DENVER (Dec. 16, 2021) - Folks who had to cancel getaways and get-togethers last year are making up for lost time this holiday season: More than 109 million Americans - a 34% increase from 2020 - will travel 50 miles or more as they hit the road, board airplanes, or take other trips between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2.
That dramatic bounce-back - 27.7 million more travelers than the 2020 holiday period - brings this year's national numbers in line with 2017 figures, and just 8% shy of 2019, which was the highest on record.
A total of 1.9 million Coloradans will join their ranks. That's a 32% increase over last year, and on par with 2019 levels - which also set records, locally.
"If 2020 year was the year of cancellations, 2021 marks a triumphant return to traditional travel patterns as Coloradans gather with their family and friends again, some for the first time since 2019," said Skyler McKinley, AAA's regional director of public affairs. "The pandemic is still very much part of our lives, of course, but vaccines have opened up wider travel possibilities and created a greater level of comfort that's made year-end celebrations possible and popular."
100 million on the roads, 6 million in the skies
Road trips remain the top travel mode for the holidays, with more than 100 million (91%) of Americans planning to drive to their destinations. 1.7 million (89%) Coloradans will hit the roads, despite regional gas prices coming in at $1.15 more than last year. Airlines will see a whopping 184% in travel volume this year, with more than 6 million people expected to fly, nationwide. 3 million Americans are booking buses, trains, and cruises.
"The great news is that international travel is back, and in a big way," McKinley said. "The only downside is that it's more complicated than ever, with entry requirements varying by destination and over time. Travelers should know that new rules require them to provide a negative Covid test within a day before re-entering the United States, regardless of their vaccination status."
Higher Prices This Holiday Season
Surging demand, supply limitations, and other pandemic-related hiccups have led to price increases on everything from flights to car rentals to accommodations - and more. Travelers who failed to book early will pay a premium.
Air - Per AAA flight booking data, ticket prices for Christmas week are up 5% from last year, with the average lowest round-trip fare running $154 for major U.S. destinations. For those flying around New Year's, prices are up considerably more - 27%, with an average lowest fare at $182. There may be some last-minute travel deals about two weeks before planned travel dates, but availability is extremely 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 coming in at $130. It's up 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, travelers who have yet to book their vehicles should expect to pay extra.
Gas Prices - Colorado's gas prices have fallen since Thanksgiving, with the average price for a gallon coming in at $3.36 - down from $3.50 a month ago. Prices are highest in Glenwood Springs, at $3.70, and lowest in Greeley, at $3.19. Prices may spike, briefly, over the travel period and then continue their decline into the new year.
Daily Worst and Best Times to Travel
Auto travel reigns supreme, with 250,000 more Coloradans on the road compared to last year. Drivers in major metro areas, such as Colorado Springs and Denver, could see more than double the delays versus typical travel times. December 23 is expected to be the busiest, most congested travel day of the period.
12/23/21 - Worst Time: 12:00 - 6:00pm | Best time: After 7:00pm
12/24/21 - Worst Time: 2:00 - 6:00pm | Best time: Before 1:00pm
12/25/21 - Minimal congestion expected
12/26/21 - Worst Time: 1:00 - 7:00pm | Best time: Before 12:00pm
12/27/21 - Worst Time: 5:00 - 6:00pm | Best time: Before 1:00pm
12/28/21- Worst time: 1:00 - 7:00pm | Best time: Before 12:00pm
12/29/21 - Worst time: 1:00 - 7:00pm | Best time: Before 11:00am
12/30/21 - Worst time: 1:00 - 7:00pm | Best time: Before 12:00pm
12/31/21 - Worst time: 2:00 - 4:00pm | Best time: Before 1:00pm, after 5:00pm
1/1/22 - Minimal congestion expected
1/2/22 - Worst time: 2:00 - 6:00pm | Best time: Before 1:00pm
Theme parks, beaches, and Vegas are popular destinations
In a shift from last year, when the wide-open spaces of the mountain west were among the country's most popular domestic travel destinations, theme-parks, cruise ports, and big cities are back on top.
1) Orlando, FL
2) Anaheim, CA
3) Las Vegas, NV
4) New York, NY; Kahului, Maui, HI (tie)
5) Honolulu, HI
6) Miami, FL
7) Fort Lauderdale, FL
8) Tampa, FL
9) Phoenix, AZ
10) San Diego, CA
What to Know Before You Go
As much as things might feel like we're back to normal as we look ahead to celebrating with our loved ones, we're still very much living in a new and evolving travel landscape. Here's how to navigate it:
Be Prepared for the Road . AAA expects to respond to as many as 1.3 million calls for help over the year-end travel period. The most common calls are for dead batteries, flat tires, and lockouts, all of which are preventable. Before any long trip, AAA suggests getting an inspection to check key components such as the battery, fuel system, tires, brakes and fluid levels. Know that if your vehicle has been sitting idle, these systems are particularly vulnerable to deterioration. A good mechanic can help. Find one you can trust at AAA.com/Repair.
Help on the Way . To get placed directly in a rescue queue without going through dispatch, AAA members should visit AAA.com/Service or through the AAA mobile app. Otherwise, call or text: 1-800-AAA-HELP.
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. Know that early morning flights are less likely to face cancellations or delays.
• Hit the road when there's less traffic and allow for extra time when traveling to your destination.
Protect Yourself - and Your Trip. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released its recommendations for holiday gatherings and related travel, saying that the best way to minimize COVID-19 risk is to get vaccinated if you're eligible.
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 where you're traveling to. AAA's COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map and TripTik.AAA.com are helpful resources travelers may use for free to understand closures, recommendations and requirements when traveling in the U.S.
• Safe Travel = Smart Travel - Everything from airports to restaurants to attractions will be busier over the travel period, which means more people coming together in close quarters. 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 - 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.
• 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.
AAA Travel VP Shares Experience
Covid-related restrictions and requirements often change and vary by destination, especially for Americans with international travel plans. AAA Travel Vice President Debbie Haas is currently on a European cruise and offers 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 onboard, 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."
Expected Number May Change
AAA notes that the actual number of travelers could fluctuate as we approach the holidays. Some people may decide to stay home if there is an increase in reported COVID-19 cases or because of concerns about the Omicron variant, while others may note the progress in vaccinations and make last-minute decisions to travel.
In cooperation with AAA, IHS Markit-a world leader in critical information, analytics and expertise-developed a unique methodology to forecast actual domestic travel volumes. The economic variables used to forecast travel for the current holiday are leveraged from IHS Markit's proprietary databases. These data include macroeconomic drivers such as employment, output, household net worth, asset prices including stock indices, interest rates, housing market indicators, and variables related to travel and tourism, including prices of gasoline, airline travel and hotel stays.
Historical travel volume estimates come from DK SHIFFLET's TRAVEL PERFORMANCE/Monitorsm. The PERFORMANCE/Monitorsm is a comprehensive study measuring the travel behavior of U.S. residents. DK SHIFFLET contacts over 50,000 U.S. households each month to obtain detailed travel data, resulting in the unique ability to estimate visitor volume and spending, identify trends, and forecast U.S. travel behavior.
The travel forecast is reported in person-trips. In particular, AAA and IHS Markit forecast the total U.S. holiday travel volume and expected mode of transportation. The travel forecast presented in this report was prepared the week of Nov. 15, 2021.