Study: Americans Forfeit 236 Million Vacation Days Annually

Per new research, the majority of Americans leave substantial vacation time on the table at the end of the year.


DENVER (Jan. 28, 2020) – It sounds crazy, but it's true: The average American worker donates an average of $571 in work time to their employer by not using up all of their vacation days, per new research from the U.S. Travel Association. All told, the American workforce forfeits 236 million earned vacation days annually in what amounts to a $65.5 billion gift to employers. 

The study found that, while Americans increasingly earn more vacation days (an average of 23.9 per year in 2018 compared to 23.2 a year prior), they're using comparatively fewer of them each year. More than half (55 percent) of Americans leave vacation time on the table at the end of the year – totaling 768 million vacation days - and the average American worker only uses about 70 percent of his or her paid time off. 

"You would never say, 'Thanks, but no thanks,' and give part of your paycheck back to your boss. But that's exactly what Americans do when they don't use their hard-earned vacation days," said AAA Colorado spokesman Skyler McKinley. "Plain and simple: Using your vacation days is good for you, good for your company, and good for the economy."

By the Numbers

  • While the overall average number of days off used increased to 17.4 – building on a positive trend that began in 2014 – on the whole, Americans could be taking half a week more vacation each year. 
  • While older Americans take more time off than younger age groups, millennials devote a greater share of their vacation days to travel (63 percent). 
  • The majority (83 percent) of Americans want to use their time off to travel – but they're only using half of their vacation days to do so. 
  • The most popular motivations to travel among American workers are to avoid burnout (28 percent), spending time with friends and family (23 percent), or for the holidays (12 percent). 
  • All told, if Americans devoted all of their vacation days to travel, it could generate an additional $151.5 billion in travel spending – benefiting local businesses and regional economies – and create 2 million American jobs.

Planning Makes a Difference

Those who plan their vacations in advance are significantly more likely than those who don't to use their vacation days to travel (76 percent to 50 percent). In fact, more than half (56 percent) of planners have taken a vacation in the last six months, compared to just 36 percent of non-planners. Nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of non-planners have not taken a vacation or trip in the last two years. 

Americans who plan vacations tend to be happier in general – with everything from their personal relationships to their health and well-being to their job. 

  • 82 percent of planners report being "very or extremely" happy with their personal relationships, compared to 68 percent of non-planners.
  • Similarly, 63 percent of planners are very or extremely happy with their physical health and well-being compared to 51 percent of non-planners.
  • They're also more likely to like their company (61 percent vs 50 percent) and their job (61 percent vs 49 percent) than non-planners. 

January 28: National Plan for Vacation Day

To encourage Americans to plan and use their time off to vacation, the U.S. Travel Association, AAA, and other partners celebrate "National Plan for Vacation Day" during the last Tuesday in January - when workers can plan their vacation days for the rest of the year.

To help employees get their vacation days on the calendar, the U.S. Travel Association has created a Vacation Planning Tool. After entering the number of days off they earn, users can plot out their trips or vacations for the year, export to their work or personal calendars, and share with their friends, families, and co-workers.

"When you plan a vacation, you give yourself something to look forward to – and many, many health and professional benefits by taking that break when your time off arrives," McKinley said. "Buy the ticket, and take the ride. The numbers are clear: You'll be glad you did."

2020 AAA Travel Expo
Looking to plan a vacation but don't know where to begin? You're in luck: Join AAA Colorado's travel experts this coming Friday, January 31 and Saturday, February 1 at the 2020 AAA Travel Expo at Empower Field at Mile High . This two-day travel event features over 60 exhibitors, cruise companies, convention and visitors bureaus, hotels, and more – including world-renowned travel experts.  

Ipsos conducted an online survey January 22- February 3rd, 2019 with 1,025 American workers, age 18+ who work more than 35 hours a week and receive paid time off from their employer. These data were weighted and scaled.

Oxford Economics used the Ipsos survey results and data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Current Population Survey to estimate historical levels of vacation activity. Total unused paid time off was projected using Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) employment data, adjusted by the share receiving paid time off. The potential economic impact was developed using a per diem spending approach based on data from TNS, U.S. Travel Association and the BEA Travel and Tourism Satellite Accounts.

About AAA Colorado
More than 700,000 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