287,000 Idahoans to travel for the holiday – nearly five percent more than last year

BOISE – (November 8, 2018) – Families across the country will need to set another place at the table this Thanksgiving – 54.3 million travelers will make a holiday journey to see family and friends this year, 2.5 million more than last year, according to new projections by AAA.

AAA says that this year’s projected travel boom is a nearly five percent increase over last year, and the most to hit the road and take to the air since 2005. The number of travelers has increased every year for the past decade.  This year, 287,000 Idahoans will be among them.

“It’s the highest level of consumer confidence that we’ve seen since September 2000, even before the dot-com bubble,” says Matthew Conde, public affairs director for AAA Idaho. “Low unemployment and higher disposable income are motivating more people to celebrate the holidays with their loved ones, and higher gas prices and other factors aren’t going to stand in their way.”

Idaho’s current average gas price is $3.10, which is 44 cents higher than a year ago. Two Gem State counties have already reached the $3 mark, and more could follow suit in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.  Meanwhile, the national average is $2.74, which is 21 cents more than a year ago.  Initial concerns surrounding the recent sanctions on Iran’s crude oil production have subsided – it appears that the worst is already behind us in terms of their effect on gas prices.

In the Mountain region (AZ, CO, ID, MT, NM, NV, UT, WY), more than four million travelers will take a trip 50 miles or more from home for the holiday, defined as Wednesday, November 21 to Sunday, November 25. The region’s rural geography lends itself to automobiles – car travel in Idaho will likely top the national projection – while Idaho air travel is expected to lag behind.

Even so, travelers should prepare for big crowds at the airport as more people incorporate flying into their holiday plans. According to AAA partner IHS Markit, air travel is up nearly five percent, but seat miles are only up three percent, which means busier airports and more full flights.


Driving is still the top travel mode

AAA says that 2.3 million additional motorists will head to the highways for turkey time, bringing the total to 48.5 million. Nearly 89 percent of travelers prefer the flexibility of auto travel.  This year, air travel leads the way in percentage growth with a 5.4 percent increase (for a total of 4.2 million passengers), while other modes of travel (bus, cruise, train) were up slightly at 1.4 percent.

“No one is happy about paying higher gas prices, but most people see the expense as a necessary component of a holiday getaway,” Conde said.


Airfares climb, hotel rates vary, and rental car rates tap the brakes

According to AAA’s Travel Leisure Index, the average Thanksgiving airfare is about five percent higher than last year, reflecting the continued demand for available flights. Meanwhile, rental car rates will drop by about ten percent (to about $63 per day), providing some relief for passengers once they reach their destination.

The Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving are the most popular days to take to the air, and these travelers will pay the highest average price per ticket ($509 and $507 respectively). The heaviest crowds are also expected on these days.  Based on projections, up to 70 percent of flights could be delayed on Tuesday, and up to 60 percent on Wednesday.

The Monday before Thanksgiving historically has a low average ticket price ($465), and it’s typically a light day for air travel. The lightest day of all? Thanksgiving Day – at an average cost of $446 per ticket, it’s also one of the least expensive.  Travelers can save money and still arrive in time for the feast.

In collaboration with INRIX, AAA says travelers could experience significant delays on the way to several airports across the country. Of particular interest to Idahoans, San Francisco, Denver, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Seattle are all on the list.  San Francisco and Denver’s busiest travel times are Monday evening, November 19; Los Angeles will see its biggest crowds on Tuesday evening, November 20, and Las Vegas and Seattle will face heavier traffic on Wednesday, November 21.

“Flying can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be,” Conde said. “Arrive early so that you can avoid having to race through the airport.  Once you’ve cleared security, whether you’re early or dealing with a delay, make the most of your extra time by sampling local food, enjoying a free art display, or even treating yourself to a massage.  If you can make the time well-spent, you’ll avoid some feelings of frustration and start your holiday off on the right track.”

The price of a AAA Two-Diamond rated hotel room will increase by five percent to an average cost of $124, while a Three-Diamond hotel room will cost about six percent less for an average cost of $166. Depending on availability, it may make sense for some guests to upgrade their stay.


AAA to the rescue

“AAA expects to rescue nearly 360,000 motorists at the roadside over the holiday weekend, but our message about preventive maintenance still holds true,” Conde said. “By having your battery system, engine, and tires checked for issues before you hit the road, you may avoid some of the more common automotive issues that can arise.  Also, check weather reports before you go, and make sure you have a complete emergency kit with food, water, extra clothing, a first-aid kit, a flashlight with extra batteries, jumper cables, flares or reflectors, and some basic tools.”