AAA: Holiday Travel Rebounds to near Pre-Pandemic Levels

Expect crowded roads, airports as 109 Million Americans including 1.5 Million Oregonians take holiday trips

Updated December 25, 2021

PORTLAND, Ore., – AAA projects 109 million Americans (33.2% of the population) will travel for the Christmas and New Year holidays, up 34% from 2020. This brings travel to nearly 93% of pre-pandemic levels in 2019. About 1.5 million Oregonians will pack their sleighs for a holiday trip.

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While nearly 92% of travelers will drive to their holiday destinations, air travel is seeing a huge bump this year, up 184% compared to 2020. With 27.7 million more people traveling for the holidays, roads and airports will be noticeably busy. The holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, December. 23 through Sunday, January. 2.

“People who cancelled trips in 2020 are eager to gather with family and friends for the holidays this year, although travelers are still mindful of the coronavirus pandemic and new Omicron variant,” says Marie Dodds, public affairs director for AAA Oregon/Idaho.

“Travelers should expect busy roads and crowded airports, and know that the travel landscape is different now than before the pandemic. But with some planning, you can have a wonderful trip,” says Doreen Loofburrow, senior vice president of travel for AAA Oregon/Idaho. “AAA recommends following CDC guidance, working with a trusted travel agent, and considering purchasing travel insurance to protect your vacation investment.”

Most will travel by car

AAA projects nearly 93% of travelers (100.1 million Americans) will drive to their holiday destination. This is a 27.6% increase from 2020.

In Oregon, roughly 1.3 million will drive.

AAA holiday travel forecast 2021

Air travel sees huge boost; travel by bus, train and cruise also rises

Holiday air travel will increase by a whopping 184% this year, and bring the 2021 volume up to 87% of 2019 levels. AAA expects 6.4 million, will fly. Approximately 137,000 Oregonians will travel by air. In all, 5.8% of holiday travelers will fly to their destinations.

Air travel costs more this holiday season. AAA finds that the average lowest airfare during the week of Christmas is 5% more than last year coming in at $154 for major U.S. destinations. For those flying around New Year’s, prices are up considerably more – 27% with the average lowest fare at $182.

Those wanting to book last-minute travel will find the best fares about two weeks before their travel date, but availability will be limited.

AAA reminds air travelers that in-flight amenities, including food and beverage services, may still be limited. Remember that masks are required on flights, in airports and at other transportation hubs through March 18, 2022.

https://www.tsa.gov/news/press/releases/2021/08/20/tsa-extends-face-mask-requirement-through-march-18-2022

In response to the Omicron variant, the U.S. has implemented stricter guidelines and now requires all inbound international travelers – regardless of nationality or vaccination status – to present a negative COVID-19 viral test result taken within one day of departure.

AAA has advice for air travelers:

  • Expect full flights. Any weather or mechanical issues can make it difficult for airlines to catch up as there are fewer options to book travelers on alternate flights.
  • AAA recommends booking morning flights as they tend to be less susceptible to cancellations and delays.
  • Check-in online for flights 24 hours ahead.
  • Always check flight status in advance of your trip in case a flight interruption requires a change of plans.
  • Purchase travel insurance to protect you in case of trip interruption.
  • Work with a trusted AAA travel advisor who can advocate for you and help to seek alternative flights or accommodations as needed.
  • Be sure to include all medications, snacks and a change of clothes in a carry-on bag.
  • Arrive at the airport early in case of traffic or parking delays, as well as lines for TSA or airport check-in. Arrive at least two hours before your domestic flight and there hours before an international flight.
  • 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.

Travel by other modes, including buses, trains, and cruises, will rise to 2.9 million, an increase of 198% from 2020. Roughly 34,000 Oregonians will travel by these modes this year.

Gas Prices Significantly Higher than Last Year

Those who hit the road for the holidays will find gas prices about a dollar per gallon higher than last year. The national average is at its most expensive for the holidays since 2013, while the Oregon average has never been this high for the year-end holidays.

Christmas Gas Prices Snip 2008 - 2020

The current (as of Dec. 25) national average for regular unleaded is $3.29 and the Oregon average is $3.76.

“High gas prices aren’t discouraging people from traveling for the holidays. Those who need to limit expenses will do so in other ways such as limiting shopping and dining out, and looking for more budget-friendly choices in activities and accommodations,” says Dodds.

AAA members can fill up for even 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 12/31/21 and make your first transaction within 30/days of joining. Once you enroll in the Fuel Rewards® Program, you will be eligible to receive a discount of 5 cents per gallon every day on each individual gas purchase of up to 20 gallons from participating Shell stations.

Peak traffic expected Dec. 23 & 27

With so many planning road trips, drivers can expect congestion as commuters leave work early and mix with holiday travelers, especially on December 23 and 27. INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, says metro areas across the U.S. could see more than double the delays versus typical drive times, and larger urban areas could experience three times the normal delays.

Best and worst times to travel holiday 2021

Top holiday destinations

These are the trending destinations for members of AAA Oregon/Idaho based on bookings done by our AAA travel agents and at AAA.com. Warm destinations and theme parks are the popular spots.

  • Anaheim
  • Las Vegas
  • Maui
  • Honolulu
  • Orlando
  • Puerto Vallarta
  • Miami
  • Phoenix
  • San Diego
  • Fort Lauderdale

Closer to home, these are the top regional destinations: central Oregon, the Oregon coast and Seattle.

 Hotels, rental cars cost more for Christmas and New Year’s

 According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, rates for AAA Three Diamond Rated lodgings are up 36% over Christmas week to an average of $320 per night up from $236 a year ago. For New Year’s, AAA Three Diamond Rated lodgings are up 127% to an average of $267 per night up from $118 last year.

The average rate for a AAA Two Diamond Rated hotel is up 43% over Christmas week with an average nightly cost of $142 up from $99 last year. For New Year’s, AAA Two Diamond Rated hotels cost 79% more to an average of $204 per night up from $114 a year ago.

Daily car rental rates are up 20% for Christmas week to $130 up from $108 last Christmas, and up 27% for New Year’s week to $182 up from $144 for New Year’s 2020.

Rental car shortages could impact some markets

With the expected sharp increase in demand for rental cars over the holidays, consumers cold experience high costs and limited availability of rental cars in some markets due to the ongoing semi-conductor chip shortage impacting automakers. Rental car companies have been re-building their inventory following a shortage over the summer, but you’ll still want to book as early as possible.

AAA has these tips if you’re renting a car over the holidays:

  • Lock in any rental car reservations when booking flights, hotels and other initial travel arrangements.
  • Work with a travel advisor. They can help find discounts and investigate bundled travel options that might make your rental less expensive when paired with other travel costs.
  • Check for member offers through AAA, including discounts up to 20% on Hertz, Dollar and Thrifty car rentals.
  • If possible, remain flexible with your travel dates. Weekly rentals may be less expensive than weekend rates on a per-day basis. Some rental companies may offer you a refund for unused days if you return the vehicle early.
  • Consider off-airport locations, which are often less expensive than renting at the airport. Be sure to ask about the location’s hours relative to your flight and factor in the cost of transportation between the rental location and airport.

 What to know before you go – AAA tips for holiday travelers

For those who decide to travel for the holidays, it is important to keep yourself and others safe. In addition to CDC guidance, travelers should also be aware of any travel restrictions, including testing and vaccine requirements and quarantine orders.

Travelers can find the latest COVID-19 travel information and tips at AAA.com/covid and the latest travel restrictions at AAA.com/covidmap. Just click on the destination you’d like to visit for the latest information.

AAA has tips for travelers this holiday season:

  • Book your flights, lodging, camping, rental car and activities in advance. High demand, limited capacity and staffing shortages mean last-minute availability is 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. 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 over the holidays 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. When traveling within the U.S., fully vaccinated travelers do not need a negative viral test or to self-quarantine. For international travel, all air passengers, regardless of vaccination status or nationality, must show a negative COVID-19 viral test result taken no more than one day before travel into the U.S. Refer to the CDC for more information.
  • Take all necessary travel documentation, including health insurance cards and COVID-19 vaccination 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.
  • Travel insurance. AAA highly recommends travel insurance to cover unexpected delays or trip interruptions. It is best to consult the expertise of a travel agent who can guide you on the coverage options available for your specific trip, including if your destination requires visitors to carry travel insurance.
  • Get your car road-trip ready. Breakdowns are always a hassle, and you don’t want to be stranded in winter conditions. Find a trusted mechanic nearby at AAA.com/repair.
  • Get to the airport early. Arrive at least two hours before your domestic flight and three hours before an international flight so you have plenty of time to get through long security screening checkpoints. Consider bringing a refillable water bottle and snacks since some airports and flights still have reduced meal and beverage service.

AAA to the Rescue

 Before you head out, be sure your vehicle is ready for the trip to avoid a breakdown along the way. AAA expects to respond to 1.3 million calls including 16,000 Oregonians at the roadside over the holidays. Dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires are the top three issues.

AAA makes it easy to request assistance – by phone (800-222-HELP), app or online – and members can track the service technician’s progress as they make their way to your vehicle.

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 an emergency kit in your vehicle. Find all the info and tips at AAA.com/winterprep.

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.

AAA holiday travel forecast 2021

About AAA

AAA provides more than 62 million members with automotive, travel, insurance and financial services through its federation of 30 motor clubs and nearly 1,000 branch offices across North America. Since 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for safe mobility. 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.

Find current fuel prices at GasPrices.AAA.com.

AAA news releases, high resolution images, broadcast-quality video, fact sheets and podcasts are available on the AAA NewsRoom at NewsRoom.AAA.com.

Find local news releases at https://www.oregon.aaa.com/category/news-releases/

Fuel prices are updated daily at AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge at AAA Gas Prices. For more info go www.AAA.com.  AAA Oregon/Idaho provides more than 850,000 members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services, and is an affiliate of AAA National, serving more than 62 million members in North America.