Report: 1 in 3 Coloradans Traveling for Holidays

Thursday, Dec. 20 to be nation's worst day to travel


DENVER (Dec. 18, 2018) – In what will be the highest year-end travel volume ever recorded, AAA Colorado forecasts 1.88 million – or nearly one in three – Coloradans will travel this holiday season. That represents the 10th consecutive year of growth, and the seventh straight year of reaching a new record-high travel volume. 

"Soaring consumer confidence and falling gas prices are inspiring more Coloradans than ever to travel this holiday season," said AAA Colorado spokesman Skyler McKinley. "Still, with one third of the state planning to get up and go over the next couple of weeks, Coloradans should brace themselves for a steady drumbeat of traffic on our roads and at our airports."

By the Numbers: 2018 Year-End Holiday Travel Forecast

  • Automobiles: More Americans will travel by car this holiday season than ever before. The 1.77 million Coloradans expected to pack up their cars for road trips is 4.5 percent higher than last year, and they'll join a total of 102.1 million Americans on the nation's roads.
  • Planes: The nearly 930,000 Coloradans who will travel by air this year is the highest level in 15 years, and a 4.5 percent increase over last year. All told, 6.7 million Americans will be taking to the skies over the holiday travel period.
  • Trains, Buses, and Cruise Ships: Travel across these sectors will increase by 4 percent to nearly 69,000 Coloradans – and 3.7 million passengers, nationwide. 

The 2018 year-end holiday period is defined as Saturday, Dec. 22 through Tuesday, Jan 1.

Economic Drivers of Travel

  • Economic growth remains steady as real gross domestic product is forecast to rise 3.1 percent in the fourth quarter compared with last year. Nationwide, the unemployment rate has fallen to 3.7 percent. Colorado's current unemployment rate is 3.2 percent.
  • Consumer spending continues to drive U.S. economic growth, as rising incomes are accompanied by stable prices for goods and services, strong employment, and increasing household asset values.
  • Consumers remain optimistic as consumer sentiment and consumer confidence levels remain well above figures seen in recent years. 
  • Nationally, gas prices averaged $2.37 for the week of December 17, down 26 cents from a month ago and six cents a year ago. In Colorado, motorists will pay an average of $2.41 for a gallon of regular, down 33 cents from a month ago and a nickel from this time last year. AAA Colorado's weekly gas-price analysis will be released on December 19. 

Worst Days to Travel

Based on historical and recent travel trends, INRIX, in partnership with AAA, forecasts drivers will experience the most congestion just before the holiday week – starting on Wednesday, December 19 – as commuters and holiday travelers mix on our nation's busiest roadways. 

"With a record-level number of travelers hitting the road this holiday, drivers should prepare for delays in major metro areas, including Denver. Thursday, December 20 will be the worst day to travel, nationwide," McKinley said. "Avoid traveling during peak commuting hours. Try to leave bright and early, or after the morning commute."

Best Times to Fly and Book Christmas Flights
An analysis of AAA's flight booking data from the last three years revealed that most holiday air travelers will depart two or three days before Christmas and return the day after the holiday. This holiday season, Saturday, December 22; Sunday, December 23 and Wednesday, December 26 will be the busiest days in the skies and at the airports. Fewer holiday travelers choose to fly on Christmas Eve and Christmas day, which are the lightest travel days around the Christmas holiday.

Most travelers booked their Christmas flights between October 26 and November 27, paying an average ticket price of $561 roundtrip. Last-minute planners who booked between December 12 and December 18 this year can expect to pay the lowest average airfares, at $488. Those travelers risk encountering limited availability -- and their preferred flights may already be sold out. 

Car Rental Costs Reach 10-year High, Hotel Prices Mixed

Holiday road trippers should budget slightly more for a rental car this year, as daily rates have increased 3 percent over last year. At $76, the daily average car rental rate this holiday season is the most expensive in 10 years. Travelers will also pay a bit more at AAA Two Diamond hotels, where prices are 1 percent more than last year, or $122 per night. Conversely, the average rate for AAA Three Diamond hotels has fallen 3 percent to an average nightly cost of $152.

AAA to Rescue More than 960,000 Motorists Nationwide

AAA expects to rescue more than 960,000 motorists at the roadside this year-end holiday period, nationwide. In Colorado, AAA anticipates it will assist nearly 10,500 members over the same period. Dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires will be the leading reasons AAA members will experience car trouble. 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. 

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 46 percent of all crashes involving bad weather take place in the winter. AAA encourages drivers to be vigilant when hitting the road this winter and to always stay prepared by carrying an emergency roadside kit containing a mobile phone and car charger, first-aid kit, blankets, drinking water and snacks, a flashlight with extra batteries, a basic toolkit, warning flares, an ice scraper, jumper cables and a shovel.

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 year-end 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