DENVER (May 11, 2021) - Amid increasing consumer confidence and the continued roll-out of COVID-19 vaccinations, AAA projects a substantial rebound in the number of Americans planning to travel this Memorial Day holiday weekend. More than 37 million people are expected to travel 50 miles or more between May 27 and May 31. That's a 60 percent increase from last year, when only 23 million traveled - the lowest volume on record since AAA began recording in 2000.
All told, AAA Colorado projects nearly 692,000 Coloradans will contribute to the ranks of these travelers. An overwhelming majority, 642,000, will take to the roads.
"A year's worth of pent-up demand is being unleashed this summer, as Americans anticipate the kick-off to the season," said Debbie Haas, Vice President of Travel for AAA - The Auto Club Group. "Travel bookings with AAA - The Auto Club Group have surged recently, setting the stage for what should be a busy holiday weekend and an exciting summer."
"For many people, this will be their first summer vacation in two years, and things will look a little different," Haas continued. "Because of the pandemic, many theme parks and hotels are running at reduced capacity, and some services are not currently available. Cruise lines are also accepting bookings, but their policies may vary based on whether you're vaccinated. That's why we encourage travelers to plan ahead and work with a trusted travel advisor, to ensure they get the best advice and value for their vacation."
Surges in AAA Travel Bookings to Colorado
AAA Travel, the nation's largest leisure travel agency, has seen a surge in online traffic and bookings on AAA.com, especially for hotels and car rentals, as we head into the summer travel season. AAA booking data suggest that domestic travel and road trips remain the biggest drivers of travel recovery in the near term.
While Orlando and Las Vegas are the top Memorial Day destinations, Colorado is well-represented in AAA data - with Denver coming in as the nation's fourth-most popular road trip destination and Colorado Springs the fifth-most popular spot for hotel, airfare, and car rental bookings.
"The secret's out: With world-class outdoor recreation and the robust travel infrastructure to back it up, Colorado is the place to be this summer," said Skyler McKinley, regional director of public affairs for AAA. "That's great news for our economy, even if it means dealing with higher gas prices and a little extra traffic for a while."
Huge Increase in Air Travel, but Most Travelers Hitting the Road
With 34 million Americans planning Memorial Day road trips, auto travel is expected to increase 52 percent over 2020. More than nine in ten memorial day travelers will drive to their destinations, as many Americans continue to substitute road trips for travel via planes, trains, and other modes of transportation.
Still, after 2020's historically low air travel volume, this Memorial Day will see nearly 2.5 million Americans boarding airplanes - nearly six times (+577%) more than last year. Air travel is down only 23 percent over 2019, suggesting a sustained and growing increase in travel confidence. AAA reminds air travelers that masks are required in all airports and on board.
In contrast, just 237,000 Americans are expected to travel by other modes, including bus and train, this Memorial Day. This is the second-lowest volume on record, higher only than the 185,000 who traveled in 2020. In 2021, travel via these modes will be 88 percent below 2019 levels.
Drivers Beware: Worst Times to Hit the Road
INRIX predicts drivers will encounter the longest travel delays before the holiday weekend, particularly during the afternoons on Thursday, May 27 and Friday, May 28. Drivers in several major U.S. metros, including Denver, could experience double the travel times compared to a normal trip, while Atlanta, Houston and New York drivers could see more than three times the delay on the busiest corridors.
"Although vehicle trips are down as much as 40 percent in some metros, afternoon congestion is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels. With the increase of holiday travelers to the typical afternoon commute, drivers in the larger metros should expect longer delays heading into the holiday weekend," said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst, INRIX. "Travelers should anticipate delays to start on Wednesday and continue through Memorial Day. Our advice to drivers is to avoid the evening commute times and plan alternate routes."
Prepare for Higher Gas Prices
The 34 million Americans traveling by car this Memorial Day should anticipate gas prices to be at their most expensive since 2014, with the national average likely cresting the $3 per gallon mark. Colorado's average pump price for a gallon of unleaded currently sits at $3.01, and will continue to rise as demand builds ahead of the Memorial Day holiday. Prices are currently highest in Glenwood Springs, at $3.31 per gallon, and cheapest in Boulder-Longmont, at $2.94.
"It's true that nobody likes to pay more for gas," McKinley said. "Still, rising prices tend to signal an improving economy, and our research has found that they don't deter motorists from hitting the roads, especially during Memorial Day. As gas prices rise, travelers tend to look for more free activities or eat out less, but they'll still take their planned trips - especially in 2021, after a year of being cooped up inside."
AAA to Rescue more than 468,000 Travelers
AAA expects to rescue more than 468,000 Americans at the roadside during the Memorial Day travel period, the vast majority of whom will be stranded due to a preventable breakdown. Before hitting the road, plan your route in advance and ensure your vehicle is road-trip ready. A good mechanic can help. Find one you can trust at AAA.com/Repair.
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.
"COVID Ain't Over"
Although it has become safer to travel, the travel environment is more complex than ever due to the dynamic public health environment. AAA has resources to help at AAA.com/Travel. Planning ahead is more important than in past years for hotel rooms, rental cars, and even restaurant reservations.
AAA notes that the actual number of holiday travelers could fluctuate as we approach Memorial Day. If there is an increase in reported cases attributed to new COVID-19 variants, some people may decide to stay home, while others may note the strong progress in vaccinations and make last-minute decisions to travel. AAA recommends working with a travel agent, who can help if you need to make any last-minute changes to travel plans as well as explore travel insurance options and help you plan a vacation that meets your needs and comfort level this summer.
AAA urges those who choose to travel this year to exercise caution and take measures to protect themselves and others as the pandemic continues.
Another factor contributing to the expected increase in travel this holiday is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) recently updated guidance that fully vaccinated people can travel at low risk to themselves while taking proper precautions. It's important to keep in mind that some local and state travel restrictions may still remain in place. Travelers can refer to AAA's COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map and TripTik.AAA.com for the latest information to help plan their trip.
For travelers who are not vaccinated but choose to travel, CDC recommends that you practice social distancing, wear a mask, wash your hands and get tested before and after travel. Whether you are vaccinated or not, remember masks are required 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.
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 Memorial Day holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, May 27 through Monday, May 31. The five-day holiday period is consistent with previous Memorial Day holiday periods. This forecast was finalized during the week of April 12.
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. For the 2021 Memorial Day holiday travel forecast, IHS Markit also examined changes in the IHS Markit containment index regarding COVID 19-related restrictions and activity.
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 IHS Markit:
IHS Markit (NYSE: INFO) is a world leader in critical information, analytics and solutions for the major industries and markets that drive economies worldwide. The company delivers next-generation information, analytics and solutions to customers in business, finance and government, improving their operational efficiency and providing deep insights that lead to well-informed, confident decisions. IHS Markit has more than 50,000 business and government customers, including 80 percent of the Fortune Global 500 and the world's leading financial institutions. Headquartered in London, IHS Markit is committed to sustainable, profitable growth.
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.