DENVER (Nov. 16, 2021) - Wherever you're going for Thanksgiving this year, you're not alone: AAA forecasts that 53.4 million Americans will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, up 13% in the highest single-year increase since 2005. That brings travel volumes within 5% of 2019's pre-pandemic levels.
The gap is closing even faster in Colorado, with travel figures coming in at just 3.7% below 2019. AAA predicts that 925,000 Coloradans will travel for Thanksgiving in a rebound from 2020 - at the same time that the travel industry works to rebuild its inventory and labor force in the wake of near-total demand destruction.
"In some ways, 2021 will look more like a normal holiday travel season - at least compared to last year," said Skyler McKinley, regional director of public affairs for AAA. "Now that the U.S. borders are open, vaccines are readily available, and new health and safety guidelines are in place, Americans are reuniting with their loved ones for the holidays. That's all set against a complicated travel backdrop, though, so travelers should budget extra time and understand that we're still living in extraordinary times."
Busier Roads and Airports
6.4 million more Americans will travel this Thanksgiving over last, so the roads and airports to be noticeably more crowded than in 2020. Nationwide, automobile travel will be up 8%. All told, 840,000 Coloradans will be hitting the roads for the holiday.
Notably, air travel has almost completely recovered from its pandemic drop-off. Demand is up 80% over 2020 - even as the airlines and other travel providers, facing intermittent delays and cancellations, work to rebuild their capacity.
"Thanksgiving comes as international travelers return to American airports, so Americans should plan for longer lines and extra time for TSA checks," McKinley said. "At the same time, while vaccines spurred a quick resurgence in demand, travelers need to know that it takes much longer to rebuild supply - so traveling in 2021 isn't the same as traveling in 2019."
AAA recommends that air travelers consider travel insurance. In the event of a cancellation, there are various policies that help offset unexpected expenses such as a hotel, transportation, and food. Travelers can also receive compensation for lost luggage, or for flight delays of as little as three hours.
Travel Pricing and Timing
Air - Prices have fallen as flights have returned, with the lowest airfare coming in at $132 - 27.3% less than last year. Tuesday and Wednesday will be the most expensive and heaviest travel days, with Monday and Thursday generally the lightest and least expensive. It is likely too late to find a consistent, reliable travel deal ahead of the holiday - so if you haven't booked a flight yet, plan for high prices, limited availability, or both.
Hotels - Mid-range hotel rates have increased about 39% over 2020, 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. Consumers continue to experience high costs and limited availability of rental cars in some markets due to the semi-conductor chip shortage impacting automakers. As the number of travelers continues to grow, it's important to reserve rental cars as early as possible.
Gas Prices - Gas prices surged in October and are likely to remain elevated through the holiday season. The average price for gasoline in Colorado was $3.49 per gallon on Monday, Nov. 15. Thanksgiving gas prices haven't been that high since 2011. The state average was $2.17 per gallon during last year's holiday (Nov. 26), and $2.80 on Thanksgiving Day in 2019 (Nov. 28).
Daily Worst and Best Times to Travel
Historically, Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips - and 2021 will be no different. Wednesday, Nov. 24, will be the busiest day on the roads, with the highest volume anticipated that afternoon. Major metro areas across the U.S., including Denver and Colorado Springs, could see more than double the delays versus typical drive times.
Wednesday - Worst Time: 12:00 - 8:00pm | Best time: After 9:00pm
Thursday - Worst Time: 12:00 - 3:00pm | Best time: Before 11:00am
Friday - Worst Time: 1:00 - 4:00pm | Best time: Before 11:00am
Saturday - Worst Time: 2:00 - 7:00pm | Best time: Before 12:00pm
Sunday - Worst Time: 1:00 - 7:00pm | Best time: Before 12:00pm
What to Know Before You Go
As much as things might feel like we're back to normal as we look ahead to Thanksgiving with our loved ones, we're still very much living in a new and evolving travel landscape. Here's how to navigate it:
Be Proactive . Book flights, car rentals, accommodations and other activities as early as possible. Prices are impacted by the limited capacity of flights and staffing challenges in 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.
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.
Be Prepared for the Road . For the 48.3 million Americans hitting the road, make sure you and your vehicle are ready for the trip ahead. AAA expects to respond to over 400,000 calls for help over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. 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.
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 this Thanksgiving, 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 - As of Nov. 8, the U.S. opened its borders to fully vaccinated international 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.
• Travel insurance - AAA highly recommends travel insurance to cover unexpected delays or trip interruptions. 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.
Expected Number May Change
AAA notes that the actual number of holiday travelers could fluctuate as we approach Thanksgiving. If there is an increase in reported COVID-19 cases, some people may decide to stay home, while others may note the progress in vaccinations and make last-minute decisions to travel. AAA recommends working with a travel advisor who can help you plan a vacation that meets your needs and comfort level this holiday season.
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-all after the trips have been taken.
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.
About AAA - The Auto Club Group
AAA Colorado is a proud part of The Auto Club Group (ACG), the second-largest AAA club in North America with more than 14 million members across 14 U.S. states, the province of Quebec and two U.S. territories. ACG and its affiliates provide members with roadside assistance, insurance products, banking and financial services, travel offerings and more. ACG belongs to the national AAA federation with more than 60 million members in the United States and Canada. AAA's mission is to protect and advance freedom of mobility and improve traffic safety. For more information, get the AAA Mobile app, visit AAA.com, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.