DENVER (Nov. 21, 2019) – AAA Colorado projects nearly 960,000 Coloradans will journey 50 miles or more away from home this Thanksgiving, a 2.9 percent increase over last year. That represents Colorado's highest Thanksgiving travel volume ever recorded, and the highest per-capita figure since 2005. All told, 27,000 more Coloradans will be taking to the nation's roads, skies, rails, and waterways compared to 2018. Nationwide, more than 55 million travelers will kick off the holiday season with a trip for Thanksgiving – leading to four times the normal congestion in America's major metros, including Denver.
"There's a whole lot of gratitude driving Colorado's year-to-year travel increases," said AAA Colorado spokesman Skyler McKinley. "Nobody likes getting stuck in traffic, especially around the holidays, but the reason that traffic is on the rise is simple: We're where people want to be, and the folks already here have the wages, disposable income, and sunny economic outlook to encourage them to travel."
By the Numbers: 2019 Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Forecast
- Automobiles: The vast majority of Colorado travelers – 834,000 – will hit the road this Thanksgiving, 2.8 percent more than last year.
- Planes: Nearly 62,000 Coloradans will travel by air for Thanksgiving, with 4.45 million Americans taking to the skies in total. Nationwide, air travel will see the biggest increase in travel volume during the holiday, at 4.6 percent.
- Trains, Buses and Cruise Ships: 62,000 Coloradans will travel by other means this Thanksgiving, joining the ranks of nearly 1.49 million Americans in total – a 1.4 percent increase from last year.
National economic factors influencing the travel forecast include:
- While GDP growth is projected to slow to 2.1 percent year-over-year during the fourth quarter, the underlying economic fundamentals remain strong.
- The national unemployment rate declined to 3.5 percent in September, the lowest in 50 years. Colorado's unemployment rate sits well below the national average, at 2.6 percent - with Boulder clocking in at just 2.0 percent, Denver at 2.2 percent, Colorado Springs at 2.6 percent, Grand Junction at 2.5 percent, and Pueblo at 3.4 percent.
- Wages, consumer spending, disposable income, and household wealth are all on the rise – driving increased consumer spending on travel.
- Consumer and corporate outlook measures remain positive. Consumer confidence, having dipped earlier this year, remains elevated.
Drivers Beware: Nothing Worse than Wednesday
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. Across the country, travel times will peak on Wednesday evening, with drives taking up to four times longer in some areas.
In Colorado, the following hotspots will be the worst for traffic throughout the Thanksgiving travel period – defined as Wednesday, November 27 to Sunday, December 1.
- 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 2019 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."
Flying? Budget Extra Time.
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, a global transportation analytics company, and AAA data, delays to the nation's busiest airports could be as long as an hour and a half.
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 about the same for a fill up as they did last year, with a national average of $2.59 as of November 20 – down two cents from 2018.
In Colorado, gas prices have ticked up nearly a dime from this point last year, with a statewide average of $2.80 a gallon. 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 $3.30, while those passing through Durango will pay the least at $2.64.
“Coloradans 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
A recent analysis of AAA’s flight booking data from the last three years revealed that flying the Monday before the Thanksgiving travel rush is the best option for travelers. It has the lowest average ticket price ($486) prior to the holiday and is a lighter travel day than later in the week. Travelers can also save by traveling on Thanksgiving Day, which has the week’s lowest average price per ticket ($454).
AAA to Rescue Nearly 370,000 Motorists
AAA expects to rescue nearly 370,000 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 4,000 motorists will require assistance at the roadside during the travel period. 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 AAA.com/Repair.
About the Forecast
AAA's projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Markit, a global business information provider. For the purposes of this forecast, the Thanksgiving holiday travel period is defined as the five-day period from Wednesday, Nov. 27 to Sunday, Dec. 1.
In cooperation with AAA, IHS Markit developed a unique methodology to forecast actual domestic travel volumes, using 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.
INRIX is the global leader in connected car services and transportation analytics. Leveraging big data and the cloud, INRIX delivers comprehensive services and solutions to help move people, cities and businesses forward. Our partners are automakers, governments, mobile operators, developers, advertisers, as well as enterprises large and small.
About AAA Colorado
More than 695,000 members strong, AAA Colorado is the state’s greatest advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 60 million members with travel, insurance, financial, and automotive-related services — as well as member-exclusive savings. A not-for-profit organization since its founding in 1923, AAA Colorado has been recognized as the number one Colorado company its size for its advocacy, community engagement, and corporate social responsibility efforts – and is a proud member of Points of Light’s “The Civic 50 Colorado,” recognizing the 50 most community-minded companies in the state. For more information, visit AAA.com.