AAA predicts near record Christmas holiday travel

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Excluding old St. Nick who will travel untold millions of miles on Christmas Eve, AAA predicts 115.2 million travelers will head 50 miles or more from home over the approaching Christmas holiday travel period.

It represents a 2.2% increase over last year and is also the second highest year-end travel forecasst since 2000 when AAA started tracking holiday travel. The predicted travel won’t break the record set in 2019 when 119 million travelers were away from home for the Christmas holiday.

“This year-end holiday forecast, with an additional 2.5 million travelers compared to last year, mirrors what AAA Travel has been observing throughout 2023,” said Paula Twidale, Senior Vice President of AAA Travel. “More Americans are investing in travel, despite the cost, to make memories with loved ones and experience new places.”

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Oklahomans will be among the 104 million who will drive to their holiday destinations. The 104 million represents an increase of 1.8% compared to 2022. It is also the second highest on record after 2019 when 108 million drivers were on the road.

As 2023 comes to a close, drivers can expect to pay about the same or less for a gallon of gas than they did last holiday season, when the national average on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day was $3.10 and $3.20, respectively. The national average is about a nickel below the lowest price of the year—$3.20—set back on January 1.

Taking to the Airways
AAA projects 7.5 million air travelers this holiday season, surpassing 2019’s record of 7.3 million passengers. Average ticket prices are slightly lower than last year. According to AAA booking data, the average price for a roundtrip ticket to Orlando this holiday season is $613, down from $735 last year.

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“With planes likely to be packed, deals on seats could be few and far between,” says Rylie Fletcher, public affairs manager, AAA Oklahoma.  “Those who have flexible schedules have the best bet at picking up a last minute deal during the holiday season.”

Cruising Into 2024
The number of people traveling by other modes, like bus, train, and cruise, is projected to surpass 2019. AAA expects more than 4 million Americans will take alternative transportation over Christmas and New Year’s compared to 3.66 million in 2022 and 3.89 million in 2019.

INRIX, a provider of transportation data and insights, says there will be several days of potentially bad traffic during the 10-day holiday period. Saturday, December 23, and Thursday, December 28, will be the most congested days on the road. INRIX also says Saturday, December 30, when many people will be heading back home from their holiday destinations or traveling for New Year’s Eve, will see an increase in traffic compared to a normal Saturday. The best times to hit the road are before lunchtime or after 7pm.

“Nationwide, drivers could see travel times up to 20% longer this holiday season. In major metros, especially in Denver, Minneapolis, and Washington, DC, drivers could experience nearly double the typical delays,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Avoid peak commuting hours and use traffic apps, local DOT notifications, and 511 services to minimize holiday travel traffic frustrations.”

Please note that the times listed below are for the time zone in which the metro is located.

For example, Atlanta routes = ET and Los Angeles routes = PT

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Top Destinations
This holiday season, many travelers are heading to warm weather destinations like Florida and the Caribbean, tourist hotspots like New York and Las Vegas, and European cities like London and Rome. Here are the top domestic and international destinations based on AAA flight booking data:

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Airport Parking Tips
AAA recommends domestic travelers arrive at least two hours ahead of their departure time while international travelers should plan on arriving three hours early. With a record number of air travelers expected this holiday season, AAA recommends travelers plan ahead and take precautions when driving to the airport and parking their vehicles:

  • Reserve a parking spot ahead of time to save time and money.
  • Choose a well-lit, secure garage.
  • On-site garages tend to be more expensive but offer convenience and peace of mind given their proximity to the terminals.
  • If choosing off-site parking, look for reputable businesses like The Parking Spot, which is securely fenced and offers a shuttle to the airport (AAA members get a discount).
  • Opt for covered parking if you live in an area expecting inclement weather.
  • Remove valuables from your vehicle.
  • Lock doors and roll up windows.
  • Take a photo of your spot to remember where you parked.
  • Keep your ticket – and receipt, if you prepaid – handy to show when exiting. Take a picture of it on your phone so you have a record in case it gets misplaced.