AAA expects 115 million Americans including 1.6 million Oregonians to head away from home for the holidays
Updated Dec. 25, 2023
PORTLAND, Ore., – AAA projects 115.2 million Americans (33.8% of the population) will travel 50 miles or more for the Christmas and New Year holidays. This is up 2.2% from 2022 and the second-highest holiday travel volume since 2000 when AAA began tracking holiday travel, only behind 2019. About 1.63 million Oregonians will pack their sleighs for a holiday trip.
The year-end holiday travel period is defined as 10 days from Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023, through Monday, Jan. 1, 2024.
Here are highlights of this year’s AAA holiday travel forecast. Find complete details and tips for holiday travelers below.
About 90% of travelers or 104 million will drive to their holiday destinations, up 1.8% compared to 2022. In Oregon, roughly 1.4 million will drive.
Air travel sets a new record this holiday season, with 7.5 million Americans including 156,000 Oregonians taking to the skies. This is up 4.7% over last year. In all, about 6.5% of all holiday travelers will fly to their destinations.
Travel by other modes, including cruises, trains and buses, is also reaching new highs this year with 4 million travelers including 50,000 Oregonians. This is up 10.7% from last year. In all, about 3.5% of all travelers will go by these modes.
“We’ve seen robust demand for travel throughout 2023, and now people are ready to wrap up the year with holiday trips. We expect to see about 2.5 million more travelers for Christmas and New Year’s this year compared to 2022,” says Doreen Loofburrow, senior vice president of travel for AAA Oregon/Idaho. “Your AAA card can provide discounts and rewards, and we recommend travel insurance to protect your investment.”
“This holiday season will be the second-busiest in the last two decades, with air travel setting new records this year. Count on busy roads and crowded airports this holiday season. With some planning before your trip, and patience and flexibility along the way, you can have an enjoyable holiday trip,” says Marie Dodds, public affairs director for AAA Oregon/Idaho. “Weather is always the wild card this time of year, so make sure you have a plan B, just in case.”
Most will travel by car
AAA projects nearly 104 million Americans (90.0% of travelers) will drive to their holiday destination. This is up 1.8% compared to 2022. Travel by car this year will be the second highest on record, up nearly 2 million from last year but lower than 2019 when 108 million Americans drove out of town for the holidays.
In Oregon, roughly 1.4 million will drive.
Air travel to set new record
Holiday air travel will jump to the highest volume ever for the holidays with 7.5 million air travelers. This is up 4.7% over last year and beats 2019’s previous high mark of 7.3 million passengers.
Approximately 156,000 Oregonians will travel by air. In all, 6.5% of holiday travelers will fly to their destinations.
Air travel and rental car costs
AAA finds that airfares generally cost less or are similar to last year.
Here are average round trip prices for popular destinations:
- Las Vegas: $508 this year down from $705 last year.
- Phoenix: $812 compared to $817 in 2022.
- Anaheim: $793 up from $773 last year.
- Orlando: $613, down from $735 last year.
Those wanting to book last-minute travel may find good fares, but availability will be limited. “If you want to be at your holiday destination by a certain date, and be able to have nonstop or one-stop flights with decent seat selection, it’s always best to book in advance,” says Loofburrow.
AAA finds that rental cars cost less this holiday season. The average daily rate for a domestic rental car is $98, down 6% from last year’s rate of $105. See AAA’s rental cars do’s and don’ts for advice.
AAA has advice for air travelers:
- Download the airline’s app on your phone and set it up for push notifications so that you’ll be notified about departure and arrival information as well as any flight changes, delays or cancellations. FlightAware and other sites let you track your incoming flight so you can find other options if that flight is late or cancelled.
- Get to the airport early – at least two hours before domestic flights and three hours before international flights. The increase in travelers can make for long wait times to get through security.
- If you need to park at the airport, book a parking spot in advance or at least check on availability before you go. Better yet, take transit, use a ride sharing service, or get a ride from a friend to the airport.
- Carry your bags on your flight instead of checking them. If you do need to check bags, bring medications, a change of clothes, comfortable shoes, and any other necessary items in your carry on bag. Make sure your bags have name tags, and also put your name and contact info inside each bag.
- Bring a refillable water bottle and snacks as you may encounter long lines at airport restaurants. Many airlines allow you to pre-order food up to 24 hours before your flight. The TSA allows solid foods through screening but liquids or gels (such as yogurt) must comply with the 3-1-1 liquids rule.
- Consider signing up for TSA PreCheck, Global Entry and/or CLEAR to expedite the security screening process. Do make sure the airports you use offer CLEAR as it’s not available at all airports.
- If your flight is canceled by the airline or there are significant delays, they will try to accommodate you on a later flight; however, you are entitled to a full refund under federal law.
- Weather is considered an “act of God”. Airlines will rebook you on flights that are available but are not required to do much more. The issue is when flights are full, rebooking passengers can be a challenge and could be days later.
- If you do call your airline, expect long wait times if you call the customer service number. You may have better luck dialing the international or rewards phone number.
- Don’t book more than one flight. Duplicate bookings will not only cost you a non-refundable ticket but could also cause both flights to be canceled. Many carriers have algorithms in place to spot dupes and cancel both itineraries which could leave you with no flights at all.
Tips on booking flights:
- Book the first flight of the day or early morning flights if you can. They are less likely to be cancelled or delayed.
- Try not to book tight connecting flights – you’ll want enough time to change flights in case your originating flight is late.
- If you really need to be at your destination on a certain day, book flights a day or two early so that you have a buffer.
- If possible, avoid airports for connecting flights where winter weather can lead to delays, including Chicago O’Hare, Newark Liberty, LaGuardia, Denver, and JFK.
Travel by bus, train and cruise to set records
Travel by other modes, including buses, trains, and cruises, will rise to more than 4 million, up 10.7% from 2022. This surpasses numbers seen before the pandemic. In all, about 3.5% of all travelers will go by these modes.
Roughly 50,000 Oregonians will travel by these modes this year.
“Demand for cruises is surging post-pandemic. We’ve seen a wave of bookings for the holidays, and that will continue through early 2024. That’s typically when cruise lines offer some great deals and AAA members get exclusive discounts in addition to good pricing,” says Loofburrow.
Gas prices similar to last year
Those who hit the road for the holidays will find gas prices that are similar to last year’s holiday season.
The current (as of Dec. 25) national average for regular unleaded is $3.13 and the Oregon average is $3.81. Find current prices at https://gasprices.aaa.com/
AAA members can fill up for less at Shell stations when they join the Fuel Rewards® program at AAA.com/Shell. Save 30¢/gal on your first fill-up at Shell when you join the Fuel Rewards® program by 12/31/23 and make your first transaction within 30 days of joining. After that, save 5¢/gal every day on each individual fill-up of up to 20 gallons from participating Shell stations.
Peak traffic expected December 23 and 28
Travelers can expect the busiest roads on Saturday, December 23 and Thursday, December 28 as people travel to and back home from their Christmas destinations. Traffic will also be heavier than usual on Saturday, December 30 when many people will be heading back home from their holiday destinations or traveling for New Year’s Eve. Another day with higher than normal volumes will be Tuesday, January 2 as people drive home from their New Year’s destinations.
Delays will be the longest in the afternoons and evenings, especially in urban areas, as travelers mix with commuters. Some metro areas across the U.S. could travel times up to 20% longer than typical drive times, and larger urban areas could experience delays that are up to twice as long as normal travel times.
“Knowing the busiest drive times can help you avoid the stress of being stuck in stop-and-go traffic,” says Dodds. “Use traffic apps, local Department of Transportation notifications, and 511 services to get real-time updates.”
Top holiday destinations
These are the trending destinations for regional, domestic and international travel for members of AAA Oregon/Idaho based on bookings by our AAA travel agents and at AAA.com.
What to know before you go – AAA tips for holiday travelers
- Book your flights, lodging, camping, rental car and activities in advance. While deals may be available to those who wait until the last minute to book, high demand means availability can be greatly reduced.
- Check on the cleaning standards. When booking a place to stay, look for accommodations that prioritize cleanliness and have implemented additional housekeeping standards since the start of the pandemic. Starting in 2021, 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.
- Take all necessary travel documentation, including health insurance cards.
- Consider working with a travel agent to help plan your trip. They can help you plan the trip that meets your needs and comfort level this holiday season, provide the best value for your vacation dollars, explore travel insurance options, assist with any last-minute changes to travel plans, and act as an advocate if the unexpected happens.
- AAA strongly recommends travel insurance to cover unexpected delays or trip interruptions. Travel insurance provides a safety net should something unexpected happen ahead of or during your trip. Travel insurance can cover expenses associated with flight cancellations, travel delays, lost luggage, and trip cancellation. Medical travel insurance can provide coverage for illness and injuries and that may not be included in your regular health insurance plan. Travel agents can also advise on what travel insurance policy makes the most sense for your trip.
- Get your car road-trip ready. Breakdowns are always a hassle, and you don’t want to be stranded during the holidays. Find a trusted mechanic nearby at AAA.com/repair. Also be sure that your vehicle is ready for winter driving conditions. Get tips and advice, including what to put in your emergency kit, at AAA.com/winterprep (https://aaa.com/winterprep).
AAA to the Rescue
Before you head out on a holiday road trip, be sure your vehicle is ready to avoid a breakdown along the way. AAA expects to respond to 930,000 calls including 15,000 Oregonians at the roadside over the holidays. Dead batteries, lockouts, flat tires and extrications are the top issues.
Before any long trip, AAA suggests getting an inspection to check key components such as the battery, fuel system, tires, brakes and fluid levels. Have your vehicle inspected by a trusted repair shop, such as one of the 7,000 AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities across North America.
Be sure that your vehicle and passengers are ready for winter driving conditions. This includes having proper traction—snow tires, chains and/or tire socks—and an emergency kit in your vehicle. Also bring warm clothing as well as water and snacks in case you get stranded. Find all the info and tips at AAA.com/winterprep.
In cooperation with AAA, S&P Global Market Intelligence developed a unique methodology to forecast actual domestic travel volumes. The economic variables used to forecast travel for the current holiday are leveraged from S&P Global Market Intelligence’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 S&P Global Market Intelligence 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 SPGMI 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 9, 2023.
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 64 million members across North America, including 57 million in the United States. Drivers can request roadside assistance, identify nearby gas prices, locate discounts, book a hotel or map a route via the AAA Mobile app. To join, visit AAA.com.
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