AAA expects nearly 55 million Americans will travel during the long holiday weekend
AAA predicts 54.6 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home this Thanksgiving. That’s a 1.5% increase over 2021 and 98% of pre-pandemic volumes. This year is projected to be the third busiest for Thanksgiving travel since AAA started tracking in 2000*.
“Families and friends are eager to spend time together this Thanksgiving, one of the busiest for travel in the past two decades,” says Paula Twidale, AAA’s Senior Vice President of Travel. “Plan ahead and pack your patience, whether you’re driving or flying.”
Most travelers will drive to their destinations, much like last year. Nearly 49 million people are expected to travel by car. While Thanksgiving road trips have slightly risen – up 0.4% from 2021 – car travel remains 2.5% below 2019 levels.
Air travel is up nearly 8% over 2021, with 4.5 million Americans flying to their Thanksgiving destinations this year. That’s an increase of more than 330,000 travelers and nearly 99% of the 2019 volume. “Airport parking spaces fill up fast, so reserve a spot ahead of time and arrive early,” Twidale suggests. “Anticipate long TSA lines. If possible, avoid checking a bag to allow for more flexibility if flights are delayed or you need to reschedule.”
Americans are also ramping up travel by other modes of transportation. More than 1.4 million travelers are going out of town for Thanksgiving by bus, train, or cruise ship. That’s an increase of 23% from 2021 and 96% of the 2019 volume. “With travel restrictions lifted and more people comfortable taking public transportation again, it’s no surprise buses, trains, and cruises are coming back in a big way,” Twidale adds. “Regardless of the mode of transportation you have chosen, expect crowds during your trip and at your destination. If your schedule is flexible, consider off-peak travel times during the holiday rush.”
*2005 and 2019 have been the busiest years for Thanksgiving travel, respectively, since AAA started tracking in 2000.
Busiest Corridors and Best/Worst Times to Travel
INRIX expects severe congestion in several U.S. metro areas, with some drivers experiencing more than double normal delays. Highways in and around Atlanta, Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles will be the busiest. To avoid the most hectic times, INRIX recommends traveling early in the morning on Wednesday or before 11am on Thanksgiving Day and avoiding travel between 4pm-8pm Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
“Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips, and this year will be no different,” says Bob Pishue, Transportation Analyst, INRIX. “Although travel times will peak on Wednesday afternoon nationally, travelers should expect much heavier than normal congestion throughout the holiday weekend. Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic.”
Best & Worst Times to Travel (by car)
|Date||Worst travel time||Best travel time|
|11/23/22||11:00 AM – 8:00 PM||Before 8:00 AM, After 8:00 PM|
|11/24/22||11:00 AM – 3:00 PM||Before 11:00 AM, After 6:00 PM|
|11/25/22||4:00 PM – 8:00 PM||Before 11:00 AM, After 8:00 PM|
|11/26/22||4:00 PM – 8:00 PM||Before 2:00 PM, After 8:00 PM|
|11/27/22||4:00 PM – 8:00 PM||Before 11:00 AM, After 8:00 PM|
Peak Congestion by Metro
|Metro||Corridor||Increase Over Typical Traffic||Peak Congestion|
|Atlanta||I-85 South; Clairmont Rd to MLK Jr Dr||105%||Wed, 11/23/22 – 1:30-3:30 PM|
|Boston||I-93 South; Albany St to MA-24||53%||Wed, 11/23/22 – 2:15-4:15 PM|
|Chicago||I-290 West; Morgan St to Wolf Rd||99%||Wed, 11/23/22 – 3:00-5:00 PM|
|Detroit||US-23 North; 8 Mile Rd to Lee Rd||32%||Wed, 11/23/22 – 2:00-4:00 PM|
|Houston||I-10 West; Sjolander Rd to TX-330||81%||Wed, 11/23/22 – 3:45-5:45 PM|
|Los Angeles||I-5 South; Colorado St to Florence Ave||144%||Wed, 11/23/22 – 5:30-7:30 PM|
|New York||I-278 South; I-495 to 6th Ave||158%||Wed, 11/23/22 – 2:45-4:45 PM|
|San Francisco||I-80 West; Maritime St to San Pablo Dam Rd||80%||Wed, 11/23/22 – 4:00-5:00 PM|
|Seattle||I-5 South; WA-18 to WA-7||86%||Wed, 11/23/22 – 4:15-6:15 PM|
|Washington DC||I-495 Counterclockwise; I-95 to VA-123||85%||Sun, 11/27/22 – 11:15 AM-1:15 PM|
Frequently Asked Questions
Why does AAA think Thanksgiving travel is up this year and so close to matching pre-pandemic levels?
Americans are eager to travel again and spend time with family and friends, in some cases to reunite with loved ones they haven’t seen in a while. With travel restrictions lifted, more people are planning getaways this Thanksgiving. The biggest jump over last year is the number of people taking trips by bus, train, or cruise – those modes of transportation are up 23% from 2021.
Most travelers are driving to their destinations – nearly 49 million people – about the same number as last year. What can they expect on the road?
Highways in and around major U.S. metro areas will be congested, with some drivers experiencing more than double normal delays, according to our partners at INRIX. To avoid the heaviest traffic, be strategic. Wednesday before Thanksgiving is always busy, but if you must travel that day, INRIX says leave before 8am or after 8pm. When you’re returning home after the holiday, avoid being on the road between 4pm and 8pm Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
How are gas prices affecting Thanksgiving travel?
High gas prices have never stopped Americans from traveling for a vacation. And this is true for Thanksgiving, a family-oriented holiday. Travelers will budget for gas prices and perhaps cut back on other spending, like dining out. Travel demand is so high right now that despite gas prices being higher than they were this time last year, drivers who are looking to get away this Thanksgiving will do so, regardless.
What can the 4.5 million Americans flying this Thanksgiving expect, following the delays and cancelations during the summer travel season?
Airports will be packed, and TSA lines will be long. Atlanta, Charlotte, and Chicago airports will be especially busy, as they are hubs for the 3 largest airlines – Delta, American, and United. These airports will see lots of activity this holiday season, as airline routes and direct flights are limited. But AAA doesn’t expect a repeat of the summer. Cancellations have tapered off since airlines have made adjustments, like adding more staff. Ultimately, weather is the number one factor behind delays and cancelations. A winter storm can cripple air travel because crews and aircraft are at maximum capacity.
What are some ways to make flying less stressful this holiday season?
Check in early and download the airline app for alerts, as well as other apps like FlightAware to track inbound flights and on-time performance. Airport garages and lots will be slammed, so consider reserving a parking spot ahead of time. Many airports offer online booking to reserve parking for your travel dates. If possible, avoid checking a bag to allow for more flexibility if your flight is delayed or you need to reschedule. Pack snacks, medication, comfortable shoes, and a change of clothes in your carry-on. Arrive at the airport two hours early, to ensure you’ll have plenty of time to get through security, without having to rush to your gate.
Find current fuel prices at GasPrices.AAA.com.
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Holiday Forecast Methodology: A Brief Overview
In cooperation with AAA, IHS Markit – a world leader in critical information, analytics, and expertise to forge solutions for the major industries and markets that drive economies worldwide – 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 gasoline prices, airline travel, and hotel stays. AAA and IHS Markit have quantified holiday travel volumes going back to 2000.
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. The travel forecast presented in this report was prepared the week of October 10, 2022.
Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Period
For purposes of this forecast, the Thanksgiving holiday travel period is defined as the five-day period from Wednesday, November 23 to Sunday, November 27. The Wednesday to Sunday period is consistent with previous years.
Started in 1902 by automotive enthusiasts who wanted to chart a path for better roads in America and advocate for safe mobility, AAA has transformed into one of North America’s largest membership organizations. Today, AAA provides roadside assistance, travel, discounts, financial and insurance services to enhance the life journey of 62 million members across North America, including 56 million in the United States. To learn more about all AAA has to offer or to become a member, visit AAA.com
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DK SHIFFLET boasts the industry’s most complete database on U.S. resident travel both in the U.S. and worldwide. Data is collected monthly from a U.S. representative sample, adding over 60,000 traveling households annually, and is used daily by leading travel organizations and their strategic planning groups. DK SHIFFLET is an MMGY Global company.
Founded in 2004, INRIX pioneered intelligent mobility solutions by transforming big data from connected devices and vehicles into mobility insights. This revolutionary approach enabled INRIX to become one of the leading providers of data and analytics into how people move. By empowering cities, businesses, and people with valuable insights, INRIX is helping to make the world smarter, safer, and greener. With partners and solutions spanning across the entire mobility ecosystem, INRIX is uniquely positioned at the intersection of technology and transportation – whether it’s keeping road users safe, improving traffic signal timing to reduce delay and greenhouse gasses, optimizing last mile delivery, or helping uncover market insights. Learn more at INRIX.com.