AAA predicts Thanksgiving travel to rebound to almost pre-pandemic levels

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AAA forecasts a strong rebound in holiday travelers this Thanksgiving. The Auto Club Group predicts 53.4 million Americans will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, up 13% from 2020. This brings travel volumes within 5% of pre-pandemic levels for the 2019 holiday.  View the full report here.
The gap is closing even faster in Tennessee, as total travel figures are only 3% below pre-pandemic levels. AAA predicts 1.2 million Tennesseans will travel for Thanksgiving, a nearly 12% rebound from the total number of travelers during the 2020 holiday.
“It’s beginning to look more like a normal holiday travel season, compared to what we saw last year,” said Debbie Haas, Vice President of Travel for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Now that U.S. borders are open, vaccinations are readily available, and new health and safety guidelines are in place, travel is once again high on the list for Americans who are ready to reunite with their loved ones for the holidays.”
AAA notes that the actual number of holiday travelers could fluctuate as we approach Thanksgiving. If there is an increase in reported COVID-19 cases, some people may decide to stay home, while others may note the progress in vaccinations and make last-minute decisions to travel. AAA recommends working with a travel advisor who can help you plan a vacation that meets your needs and comfort level this holiday season. To get started and to learn more, visit AAA.com/Travel.
Busier Roads and Airports
With 6.4 million more Americans traveling this Thanksgiving (130,000 more Tennesseans), people should prepare for the roads and airports to be noticeably more crowded than last year’s holiday. AAA predicts road travel to increase 8%. Yet the most notable improvement this year’s holiday is domestic air travel, which has almost completely recovered from its dramatic drop-off during the pandemic and is up 80% from last year.
“The re-opening of the U.S. borders to international travelers means airports will be even busier than we’ve recently seen, so travelers must plan for longer lines and extra time for TSA checks,” Haas continued. “With flight delays and cancellations becoming a problem recently, air travelers are encouraged to consider travel insurance. If your flight is cancelled, there are various policies that would help offset unexpected expenses like a hotel, transportation and food. You may also receive compensation for lost luggage, or if your flight is delayed for as little as 3 hours.”
Travel Pricing
Air—Even with air travel seeing a boost this year, AAA finds that the average lowest airfare is 27.3% less than last year coming in at $132. Tuesday and Wednesday are still the most expensive and heaviest travel days, while Monday and Thursday are generally the lightest and least expensive. Those wanting to book last minute travel will find the best fares about two weeks before Thanksgiving, but keep in mind availability may be limited.
Hotels—Mid-range hotel rates have increased about 39%, with average nightly rates ranging between $137 and $172 for AAA Approved Hotels.
Car Rentals—Daily car rental rates have increased 4% compared to last Thanksgiving at $98. Over the summer, consumers experienced high costs and limited availability of rental cars in some markets due to the semi-conductor chip shortage impacting automakers.  As the number of travelers continues to grow, it’s important to reserve rental cars as early as possible.  Consult AAA.com/Travel for options and special benefits.
Gas Prices—Gas prices surged in October and are likely to remain elevated through the holiday season. The average price for gasoline in Tennessee was $3.15 per gallon on Monday, November 8th. Thanksgiving gas prices haven’t been that high since 2013. The state average was $1.89 per gallon during last year’s holiday (November 26), and $2.31 on Thanksgiving Day in 2019 (November 28).
View daily gas price averages at GasPrices.AAA.com
“After such an unusual holiday travel year in 2020, it appears that higher gas prices will not be enough to deter Tennesseans from returning to the road for the holidays,” said Megan Cooper, spokeswoman, AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Unfortunately, it appears these high gas prices will hang around through the holidays. So it’s likely that travelers will budget more for gasoline and less on things like shopping, lodging and dining out.”
AAA Tips and Resources for Navigating the Travel Landscape
This year’s forecast marks the highest single-year increase in Thanksgiving travelers since 2005, bringing travel volumes close to pre-pandemic levels in 2019. Despite gasoline costing over a dollar more per gallon than this time last year, 90% of people plan to travel by car as their preferred mode of transportation. Although the car is still the most popular choice for travelers, a greater share will opt to travel by air and other modes such as bus, train or cruise this year. Whether you plan to do so by car or plane, it’s important to know how to navigate the new travel landscape to avoid unnecessary stress and challenges on the way to your Thanksgiving destination.
Be Proactive. Book flights, car rentals, accommodations and other activities as early as possible. Prices are not going down and are still somewhat impacted by the limited capacity of flights and staffing challenges faced by many industries. Consider working with a travel advisor who can make any last-minute changes to travel plans, explore travel insurance options and help plan a trip that meets your needs and comfort level this holiday season.
Be Patient. The roads and airports will be busy so plan ahead.
Arrive at the airport early so you’ll have plenty of time to get through longer TSA lines and other travel checkpoints. For domestic travel, AAA suggests 2 hours ahead of departure time and 3 hours for international.
Consider booking a flight during non-peak travel periods to cut down on wait times.
Hit the road when there’s less traffic and allow for extra time when traveling to your destination.
Be Prepared for the Road. For the 48.3 million Americans hitting the road, make sure you and your vehicle are ready for the trip ahead.  AAA expects to respond to over 400,000 calls for help over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The most common calls are for dead batteries, flat tires, and lockouts.
Before any long trip, AAA suggests getting an inspection to check key components like the battery, fuel system, tires, brakes and fluid levels. However, if your vehicle has been sitting idle these systems are particularly vulnerable to deteriorating especially without proper care or maintenance. Locate a AAA Approved Auto Repair Facility near you.
Be Protected—Both You and Your Trip.  If you plan to travel during the holidays, it’s essential to do so safely and understand how to protect yourself, your loved ones and your investment while traveling.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released its recommendations for holiday gatherings and related travel, saying that the best way to minimize COVID-19 risk is to get vaccinated if you’re eligible. AAA urges anyone considering gathering or traveling for Thanksgiving to consult CDC guidance before finalizing holiday plans.
As travel restrictions remain in flux, it’s essential to know requirements and recommendations based on your vaccination status, where you’re traveling from and where you’re traveling to. AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map and TripTik.AAA.com are also helpful resources travelers may use for free to understand closures, recommendations and requirements when traveling in the U.S.
Travel insurance—AAA highly recommends travel insurance to cover unexpected delays or trip interruptions. It is best to consult the expertise of a travel advisor who can guide you on the coverage options available for your specific trip, including if your destination requires visitors to carry travel insurance.
Clean accommodations—when booking a place to stay, look for accommodations that prioritize cleanliness and have implemented additional housekeeping standards since the start of the pandemic. Earlier this year, as part of its Diamond designation, AAA enhanced its housekeeping evaluation to include objective, scientific validation of the cleanliness of common surfaces throughout hotels. Hotels that meet these new standards are now recognized as Inspected Clean and a current listing can be found here.
Safe travel = smart travel—everything from airports to restaurants to attractions will be busier this Thanksgiving, which means more people congregating. Masks are still required for everyone 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. The CDC also recommends everyone wear a mask indoors in public if they are in an area of substantial or high transmission.
Domestic and international travel guidelines—as of November 8, the U.S. opened its borders to fully vaccinated international travelers. The CDC has updated its guidance to reflect these changes. When traveling within the U.S., fully vaccinated travelers do not need a negative viral test or to self-quarantine. For international travel, refer to the CDC for specific guidelines.
Roads Will Be Bustling
INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts drivers will experience the worst congestion heading into the holiday weekend as commuters leave work early and mix with holiday travelers. Major metro areas across the U.S. could see more than double the delays versus typical drive times, with drivers in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and New York City likely to experience more than three times the delays.
“Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips and this year will be no different even during the pandemic,” says Bob Pishue, Transportation Analyst, INRIX. “Drivers around major metros must be prepared for significant delays, especially Wednesday afternoon. Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic.”
Forecast Methodology:
In cooperation with AAA, IHS Markit—a world leader in critical information, analytics and expertise—developed a unique methodology to forecast actual domestic travel volumes. The economic variables used to forecast travel for the current holiday are leveraged from IHS Markit’s proprietary databases. These data include 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.
Historical travel volume estimates come from DK SHIFFLET’s TRAVEL PERFORMANCE/MonitorSM. The PERFORMANCE/MonitorSM is a comprehensive study measuring the travel behavior of U.S. residents. DK SHIFFLET contacts over 50,000 U.S. households each month to obtain detailed travel data, resulting in the unique ability to estimate visitor volume and spending, identify trends and forecast U.S. travel behavior—all after the trips have been taken. 
The travel forecast is reported in-person trips. In particular, AAA and IHS Markit forecast the total U.S. holiday travel volume and expected mode of transportation.

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