More Americans than ever – 115.6 million – will be on the road, in the air, and on trains and cruise ships this holiday season, from Sunday, Dec. 21 through Wednesday, Jan. 1.
So get ready for gridlock wherever you are.
That is the most in the nearly 20 years since AAA began tracking holiday travel in 2000, and represents an increase of 3.9% over last year, or 4.3 million more people packing up their sleighs for a holiday getaway.
More than 104 million of those holiday travelers will drive to their destinations and, INRIX, a global transportation analytics company, expects delays to be the worst on Thursday, Dec. 26, with afternoon delays reaching nearly double congestion-free drive times in major U.S. cities.
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“Holiday cheer is at an all-time high this year, with unemployment at historically low levels, and noted improvements in both disposable income and household net worth,” said Paula Twidale, vice president, AAA Travel.
So travelers should anticipate crowded highways and airports, as this marks the eighth straight year of new record-high travel volumes for the year-end holidays.
More Americans than ever are driving
104.8 million Americans, the most on record, will drive to their holiday destinations.
That means 3.9 million more people are expected on the roads compared with last year, for an increase of 3.9%.
With 4.9% growth, air travel will see the biggest increase in travel volume during the year-end holidays, with 6.97 million Americans expected to fly – the most since 2003.
A recent analysis of AAA’s flight booking data revealed that most travelers depart two to four days prior to the Christmas holiday, Dec. 21-23, with the 22nd being the single busiest air travel day of the holiday week.
These travelers, on average, pay ticket prices between $593 and $639. Christmas Eve is the best day to travel, with the lowest average price per ticket ($527) and the fewest crowds of the holiday week.
Many travelers opt to fly after the Christmas holiday leading up to New Year’s, and they pay a premium to do so.
Dec. 26 has the highest average ticket price of the week at $692.
Travel by these other modes will reach 3.81 million, 3% more than last year.
For the 104.8 million Americans traveling by automobile, INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts only marginal delays throughout the holiday week.
Nationally, drivers could experience double the travel times on Thursday and Friday afternoon, although New York City and Washington, D.C. could see triple the delays.
New York City issues an annual Gridlock Alert advisory, when traffic in Midtown, especially around the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, can see triple the delays.
Here is the INRIX/AAA prediction for worst traffic delays in top cities, so allow extra time.
|City||Worst Day to Travel||Peak congestion period||Delay Multiplier|
|Atlanta||Thursday, Dec. 26||4:30 – 6:30 PM||1.3x|
|Boston||Friday, Dec. 27||4:00 – 6:00 PM||1.5x|
|Chicago||Thursday, Dec. 26||4:45 – 6:45 PM||1.3x|
|Detroit||Thursday, Dec. 26||4:30 – 6:30 PM||1.4x|
|Houston||Friday, Dec. 27||4:30 – 6:30 PM||1.8x|
|Los Angeles||Thursday, Dec. 26||4:25 – 6:25 PM||1.6x|
|New York||Thursday, Dec. 26||4:15 – 6:15 PM||2.7x|
|San Francisco||Thursday, Dec. 26||4:00 – 6:00 PM||2.0x|
|Seattle||Friday, Dec. 27||4:15 – 6:15 PM||1.2x|
|Washington, D.C.||Thursday, Dec. 26||4:00 – 6:00 PM||3.0x|
Gas prices are expected to drop in time for the holidays
Gas prices steadily declined in November, paving the way for even cheaper prices for the year-end holidays.
AAA expects most motorists to see gas prices drop before the new year, but will likely be slightly more expensive than last December’s national gas price average of $2.37.
As an added bonus, AAA members who register in the Fuel Rewards at Shell program through Dec. 31, 2019 can receive an additional 25 cents per gallon discount on their first fill up after registering, on top of the everyday 5-cent discount (30 cents total).
More than 853,000 motorists will call AAA for assistance at the roadside this holiday season.
Dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts will be the leading reasons AAA members will experience car trouble.
AAA recommends motorists take their vehicles to a trusted repair facility to perform any needed maintenance before heading out on a road trip.
Remember to slow down and move over for stopped emergency vehicles at the roadside. It’s the law in all 50 states.
What are your holiday plans?
ecoXplorer Evelyn Kanter is a journalist with 20+ years of experience as a newspaper and magazine writer, radio & TV news producer & reporter, and guidebook and smartphone app author – all focusing on travel, automotive, the environment and your rights as a consumer.
Contact me at [email protected]
Also follow my NYC website, www.nyconthecheap.com.