Forecast: 930k Coloradans Traveling for Thanksgiving

Travel times could be up to four times longer over the holiday week


DENVER (Nov. 19, 2018)  – AAA Colorado projects nearly 930,000 Coloradans will journey 50 miles or more away from home this Thanksgiving, a 7 percent increase over last year. The 2018 travel period will see the highest Thanksgiving travel volume since 2005, with 63,000 more Coloradans taking to the nation's roads, skies, rails and waterways compared to 2017. All told, 54.3 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home this Thanksgiving holiday – leading to potential travel times up to four times longer in America's most-congested cities.

"Coloradans have a lot to be thankful for, each and every day," said AAA Colorado spokesman Skyler McKinley. "Higher wages, more disposable income and rising levels of household wealth are having a big impact: More travelers are kicking off the holiday season with a Thanksgiving getaway, building on the brightest year for the travel industry since 2005."

By the Numbers: 2018 Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Forecast

  • Automobiles: The vast majority of Colorado travelers – 810,000 – will hit the road this Thanksgiving, more than 8 percent more than last year.
  • Planes: Nearly 60,000 Coloradans will travel by air for Thanksgiving, with 4.27 million Americans taking to the skies in total. That's the most Thanksgiving air travel since 2007.
  • Trains, Buses and Cruise Ships: 60,000 Coloradans will travel by other means this Thanksgiving, joining the ranks of nearly 1.48 million Americans in total – a 1.4 percent increase from last year.  

Economic factors influencing the travel forecast include: 

  • Economic growth remains strong and broad based, as real gross domestic product is slated to increase 3.1 percent year-over-year during the fourth quarter, and the national unemployment rate is expected to decrease to 3.7 percent.
  • Strong fundamentals continue to support high levels of consumer spending, with wages, disposable income and household wealth all increasing.
  • Consumer and corporate outlook measures remain positive. Consumer confidence has reached an 18-year high.
  • October gas prices were on average about 40-cents more than this time last year, which is in line with gas price trends seen throughout this year and otherwise accompanied by record-breaking travel figures.

Drivers Beware: Thanksgiving's Terrible Traffic

Historical data and recent travel trends suggest that drivers will experience the greatest amount of congestion Thanksgiving week during the early evening commute period, with travel times starting to increase on Monday. Drivers in San Francisco, New York City and Boston will see the largest delays – nearly quadruple normal drive times.

In Colorado, per an INRIX analysis of historical data, the following hotspots will be the worst for traffic throughout the Thanksgiving travel period – defined as Wednesday, November 21 to Sunday, November 25.

  • Southbound I-25 at Greenland Road (Exit 167)
  • Northbound I-25 at 84th Avenue (Exit 219)
  • Southbound I-25 at US-285 (Exit 201)
  • Southbound CO-2 at I-25 
  • Southbound I-25 at Spruce Mountain Road (Exit 173)
  • Northbound CO-121 at W. 64th Avenue
  • Eastbound I-70 at Havana Street (Exit 280)
  • Westbound CO-470 at Platte Canyon Road 
  • Southbound I-225 at I-25 (Exit 1)
  • Northbound I-25 at Plum Creek Parkway (Exit 181)

In most cases, the best days to travel will be Thanksgiving Day, Friday or Saturday. Drivers should expect increased travel times on Sunday as most holiday travelers will be making their way home after the long weekend. 

"Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips, and 2018 will be no different," McKinley said. "To skip the stress of sitting in traffic, avoid commuting times in major cities altogether or plan alternative routes."

When to Avoid the Airport

Across the country, travelers who take to the sky must account for long security lines, but also increased drive times to the airport. Per INRIX and AAA data, delays to the nation's busiest airports could be as long as an hour and a half during peak travel times. 

In Colorado, those heading to Denver International Airport should budget drive times from downtown to DIA via I-70 E and Peña Blvd. of 55 minutes or more.

Higher Gas Prices Not Keeping Holiday Travelers Home

Motorists can expect to pay the highest Thanksgiving gas prices in four years, with a national average of $2.63 as of November 18 – nine cents more than a year ago. In Colorado, the statewide average runs $2.73 for a gallon of regular, up 18 cents from this time last year. Motorists filling up in Vail will pay the most per gallon, at $3.20, while those passing through Colorado Springs will pay the least at $2.63. 

"Motorists have become accustomed to this year's more expensive gas prices and won't let higher fuel costs deter them from taking Thanksgiving road trips," McKinley said.

Best Times to Fly

An analysis of AAA's flight booking data from the last three years reveals that the Tuesday and Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving are usually the most popular air travel days and have the highest price per round-trip ticket, at an average of $508. Meanwhile, Thanksgiving Day consistently has the lowest average price per ticket ($465) and is the lightest travel day. Travelers looking to save money this holiday season can fly the morning of the holiday and arrive just in time for Thanksgiving dinner, as crowds on the holiday itself are expected to be manageable. 

AAA to Rescue Nearly 360,000 Motorists

AAA expects to rescue nearly 360,000 motorists at the roadside this Thanksgiving. Dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires will be the leading reasons AAA members will experience car trouble. In Colorado, AAA anticipates nearly 3,700 motorists will require assistance at the roadside during the travel period – up more than 4.5 percent from last year. AAA recommends motorists take their vehicle to a trusted repair facility to perform any needed maintenance before heading out. Oil changes, fluid level checks, battery tests and tire inspections go a long way toward reducing the chances of a breakdown. Find a good mechanic at

About the Forecast
AAA's projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Markit. The London-based business information provider teamed with AAA in 2009 to jointly analyze travel trends during major holidays. AAA has been reporting on holiday travel trends for more than two decades. The complete AAA/IHS Markit 2018 Thanksgiving holiday travel forecast is available here.

About AAA Colorado

More than 685,000 members strong, AAA Colorado is the state's most-trusted advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. As North America's largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 58 million members with travel, insurance, financial, and automotive-related services - as well as member-exclusive savings. For more information, visit