BOISE – (May 15, 2023) – If you’re planning a getaway this Memorial Day weekend, you’re not alone.  According to AAA, 42.3 million Americans, including more than 241,000 Idahoans, will take a trip to kick off what is expected to be a very busy travel season.  That’s 2.7 million more vacationers than a year ago.

This year’s holiday travel period runs from Thursday, May 25 to Monday, May 29.

“Our forecast puts travel volume back at pre-pandemic levels, with a prediction of record air travel for the holiday,” says AAA Idaho public affairs director Matthew Conde.  “We continue to see growing consumer confidence and elevated discretionary spending, despite persistent inflation and the threat of a global recession.  Right now, people are cautiously optimistic that they can still take a vacation, even with the economic storms that are raging overhead.”

According to AAA data, this year’s Top Ten Memorial Day destinations are:

  1. Anaheim, CA
  2. Las Vegas, NV
  3. Salt Lake City, UT
  4. Yellowstone/Grand Teton National Park
  5. San Diego, CA
  6. Orlando, FL
  7. Hawaii
  8. Phoenix, AZ
  9. Rapid City, SD
  10. Seattle, WA

“As we get closer to the holiday, airplane seating and hotel rooms could be in short supply in some areas,” Conde said.  “If you haven’t already booked, don’t delay – secure your travel itinerary now.”

AAA says that the best times to drive during the holiday period are Thursday and Friday before noon, and Monday before 10:00 AM.  Thursday and Friday afternoon (from 3:00 to 6:00 PM) will be the worst times to drive, as holiday travelers share the road with the evening commute.

Car travel accelerates, air travel soars, and other travel modes surge

Most Memorial Day travelers will go by car, with a 6% increase in that mode of travel this year.  Meanwhile, 3.4 million passengers will fly – an 11% increase from the previous year and the most since AAA began tracking travel data.  Other modes of travel, such as cruise ships, trains, and buses, will experience a 20% increase, but will remain well below record levels set in the early 2000s.

“In recent years, car travel has been the preferred choice for nearly 90% of all trips.  But this year, we predict a major uptick in the number of people who will fly in order to maximize their leisure time at their end destination,” Conde said.  “Cruise lines are also seeing strong recovery as people continue to make up for lost time.”

AAA notes that some airlines have adopted the strategy of using bigger planes at less frequency.  If you’re flying to or from a smaller airport, these changes could affect your travel itinerary.

Hotels, airfare, and rental car rate info

Despite a significant increase in the number of Americans jumping into a car or hopping onto a plane for the holiday, Memorial Day travelers could end up paying about the same or even a little less for some aspects of their trip this year.

According to AAA research, the cheapest price for Two and Three-Diamond hotels will be about 4% lower than last year.  The most affordable airfares will be unchanged, and rental car rates could be as much as 14% cheaper than a year ago.  But as always, the most popular destinations will command higher prices, especially as flight and hotel inventories dwindle.

The National Park Service reported nearly 312 million recreational visits in 2022, up 5% from the previous year.  Remember to make reservations where National Parks require them and arrive at the most popular parks in the early morning hours – during the summer, cars may be held at the gate or even turned away if the park is already at capacity.

Last year, the top ten busiest national parks were Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Zion, Rocky Mountain, Acadia, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Joshua Tree, Cuyahoga Valley, and Glacier.

Pump prices fluctuate – but better than last year

Today’s average price for a gallon of regular in the Gem State is $3.74 per gallon, which is the same as a week ago and 17 cents more than a month ago, but 77 cents less than a year ago.  Meanwhile, the national average currently sits at $3.54 per gallon, which is also the same as a week ago, but 13 cents less than a month ago and 93 cents less than a year ago.

AAA to the rescue

Nationwide, AAA will respond to 483,000 calls for emergency road service over the holiday weekend, including nearly 900 in Idaho.  Lockouts, jump-starts and flat tires will be the main culprits for a roadside breakdown.  AAA recommends a pre-trip inspection from a trusted mechanic before hitting the road.

“As always, the most important thing you can pack for a holiday adventure is your patience,” Conde said.  “Try to see the humor in every situation, and don’t let a minor mishap derail your well-deserved break from the stress of everyday life.”