AAA: Holiday Travel to Drop at least 29 Percent due to Pandemic

Three-quarters of Americans are expected to stay home

PORTLAND, Ore., – Most Americans—about 75%—will stay home for the holidays this year. AAA projects a drop of at least 29% in holiday travel due to public health concerns and recommendations not to travel because of the coronavirus pandemic.

AAA Holiday Travel Forecast 2020

AAA says as many as 84.5 million Americans including nearly 1.1 million Oregonians may still travel from December 23 through January 3. Nationwide, 34 million fewer Americans will travel this holiday season compared to last year.

This is the lowest travel volume for the holidays since 2002 and the end of 11 years of growth in holiday travel.

AAA Holiday Travel Forecast 2020

“The year-end holidays are normally a time when people take vacations, venturing out on longer trips and traveling greater distances compared to Thanksgiving. That won’t be the case this year,” says Marie Dodds, public affairs director for AAA Oregon/Idaho. “Most are taking a wait-and-see approach to holiday travel. With COVID‑19 cases steadily increasing this month, many will make last minute decisions not to follow through with holiday travel plans, which was the trend during the lead up to Thanksgiving.”

The Centers for Disease Control urges Americans not to travel for the holiday because travel increases your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home and avoiding social gatherings are the best ways to protect yourselves and others.

For those who make the personal decision to travel, it is important to understand the risks involved and take steps to keep yourself and others safe. AAA advises travelers to exercise caution. Find tips and advice below.

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.

For Thanksgiving, AAA projected a drop of 10% compared to 2019 with 50 million Americans including 742,000 Oregonians heading over the river and through the woods, based on mid-October travel forecast models. While final Thanksgiving travel numbers are not yet available, AAA expects the decline to be closer to 15 to 20%, as the CDC and state and local authorities advised against holiday travel.

Vast Majority to Travel by Car

AAA projects 96% of travelers will drive to their holiday destination. This is the highest share ever seen for the holidays and beats the previous high of nearly 93% in 2009.

Up to 81 million Americans including nearly one million Oregonians will travel by car, a drop of at least 25% from 2019. Driving is replacing travel that would have been taken by airplane, train or bus because of the flexibility, security and comfort traveling by car provides.

“With many travelers waiting until the last minute to decide whether to travel, going by car provides flexibility leading up to the day of departure,” says Dodds.

Gas Prices Significantly Lower than Last Year

Lower gas prices are a nice holiday bonus. The national average for regular is about 40 cents a gallon less than last year, and the Oregon average is about 50 cents less. The national average is the cheapest for the holidays since 2015. The Oregon average is at its lowest level for the holidays since 2016.

Christmas Gas Prices Snip 2008-2019

“Normally, cheaper gas prices would spur travel, especially over the holidays. But this year, people are considering COVID-19 as they make their travel decisions,” adds Dodds.

AAA members can fill up for even less at Shell stations when they join the Fuel Rewards® program at AAA.com/Shell through Dec. 31. In addition to the five cents per gallon everyday offer, members will receive an additional 10 cents off per gallon on their first three fill-ups after joining for the first time as a Fuel Rewards® member, for a total savings of 15 cents.

Peak traffic expected during holiday afternoons

Traffic volume is expected to be less than in years past, but travelers in urban areas could still experience increased delays in the few days before and after Christmas. Congestion at bottlenecks could result in delays up to triple the normal drive times, especially during the afternoon and early evening hours. INRIX expects other areas could see delays about 20% above normal pandemic congestion levels.

Large declines expected in air and other modes of travel

AAA expects holiday air travel volume will be down 60% compared to 2019 with 2.9 million travelers including 59,000 Oregonians flying to their holiday destinations. This is the first decline in air travel since 2011 and the lowest air travel volume since 2009 during the Great Recession.

Share of air travel drops to 3.4% in 2020, compared to 6% last year.

Air travelers can expect to pay lower airfares this holiday season, as AAA has seen double-digit reductions in average flight costs.

Wear your mask at the airport and on the plane. Maintain social distancing in security lines and when boarding the plane. As a precaution, wipe down your seat, armrest, belt buckle and tray table using disinfecting wipes. The TSA is allowing one liquid hand sanitizer container up to 12 ounces per passenger in carry-on bags until further notice.

AAA reminds air travelers that in-flight amenities, including food and beverage services, may not be available. And not all food and beverage services are operating at airports. Consider bringing a refillable water bottle and snacks.

This time of year travelers also need to be aware of potential weather delays. Make sure to check flight status regularly before traveling to the airport.

Most major airlines have waived change fees during the pandemic. However, this doesn’t mean you can get a refund if you decide not to fly, or that you won’t have to pay the difference in fare if you change to a more expensive flight. Each airline has its own policies so read the fine print.

Travel by other modes, including buses, trains and cruises, is expected to decline 88% to 480,000 travelers including about 4,200 Oregonians. Cruise ships remain docked and more travelers opt for car trips instead of taking buses or trains.

What to Know Before You Go

For those who make the personal decision to travel for the holiday, it is important to know the risks involved and ways to keep yourself and others safe. In addition to CDC guidance, travelers should also be aware of local and state travel restrictions, including testing 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.

“Traveling during the pandemic requires you to plan ahead before leaving home. Make sure to check with state and local authorities along your route to learn about any guidance and restrictions. This is critical to being a responsible traveler and staying as safe as possible,” says Dodds. “Book any lodging and activities in advance, since many are limiting capacity, and plan where you’ll stop for food, gasoline and EV charging along the way.”

AAA has tips for holiday travelers:

  • Check in advance on travel restrictions and guidance for each destination you plan to visit. Many states, counties, cities and countries still have travel restrictions in place. AAA has developed an interactive TripTik map with COVID-19 travel restrictions. Just click on the destination you’d like to visit for the latest information. AAA.com/Covidmap.
  • Book your lodging, camping and rental car in advance. Many providers are limiting the number of guests and/or allowing more time between guests, so availabilities will likely be reduced.
  • Prior to any stay, ask what precautions hotels, campgrounds and other lodging are taking to protect guests. Ask about social distancing protocols such as capacity reductions in common spaces and hotel staff requirements to wear masks at all times. Ask about any restrictions or changes to the check-in process. Many properties have reduced face-to-face interactions with guests.
  • Check on the cleaning standards. Many hotels, campgrounds, parks and rental car companies offer enhanced cleaning policies. For extra confidence, look for Diamond hotels that display a AAA Inspector’s Best Of Housekeeping badge. Oregon has 181 properties from Albany to Yachats that are honored. Here’s the complete list of Oregon properties.
  • When you check into your room, wipe down commonly touched surfaces with disinfectant. Pay special attention to light switches, door knobs, faucets, refrigerator handles, and remote controls.
  • Check with any museums, parks, attractions, etc. you want to visit and consider purchasing tickets in advance. Many will have reduced operating hours and limit the number of visitors at a time. Many also require face masks.
  • Bring snacks, beverages and non-perishable foods with you to minimize stops along the way. Grocery stores and restaurants may have limited hours. Check to see if restaurants are open, and if they offer dine-in service, take-out and/or delivery. Pack picnic supplies and look for scenic stops where you can enjoy the outdoors while social distancing.
  • Pack hygiene, cleaning and disinfecting products such as face masks, hand sanitizer, soap, wipes, sprays, paper towels, tissues, toilet paper, thermometer, gloves, etc. as these items may be difficult to purchase while you’re on the road.
  • Pay with a credit card instead of cash and use a wipe or sanitizing spray to disinfect your credit card before putting it away.
  • Take all necessary travel documentation, including health insurance cards.
  • Consider working with a travel professional to help plan your trip. They can help you sort through all of the pandemic-related restrictions, help you get the biggest bang for your vacation dollars, and act as an advocate if plans change unexpectedly. Visit AAA.com/Travel to get started.
  • Get your car road-trip ready. Breakdowns are always a hassle, and you don’t want to be stranded during the coronavirus pandemic. Find a trusted mechanic nearby at AAA.com/repair.
  • If renting a car, ask about cleaning policies. Hertz, for example, has introduced Hertz Gold Standard Clean, an enhanced vehicle disinfectant and sanitization process. For extra peace mind, use disinfecting wipes to wipe down door handles, steering wheels, shifters and control panels. Hertz is also offering deals for road trippers this fall. Book four or more days at any Hertz neighborhood location and get one day free. Visit AAA.com/Hertz for more details.
  • Get to the airport at least two hours before your flight. Getting through security may take longer now that some locations are checking passengers’ temperatures. Always maintain social distancing in security check lines and when boarding the plane. Consider bringing a refillable water bottle and snacks since airports and flights may have reduced meal and beverage service.

AAA Holiday Travel Forecast 2020

AAA to the Rescue: dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires are most common issues

AAA expects to rescue more than 905,000 Americans including 10,300 Oregonians at the roadside this holiday season. Dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires are the top three issues.

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

Before heading out, AAA recommends you check the condition of your tires and battery. Most batteries have a lifespan of about three years and may fail in cold weather. AAA members can schedule a time for a AAA battery technician to come to your vehicle and test your battery, starter and alternator. We’ll even deliver a new battery, install it and take away your old one.

Have your vehicle inspected by a trusted repair shop, such as one of the nearly 7,000 AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities across North America. Oil changes, fluid level checks, battery tests and tire inspections go a long way toward reducing the chances of a breakdown.

Be prepared for winter driving conditions:

Equip your car with the right traction tires, or carry chains or tire socks and know how to put them on. Check on road conditions before leaving home.

In addition to checking your vehicle battery, AAA recommends checking windshield wipers and inspecting tires to ensure safe drivability before setting out.

When driving, slow down and do not tailgate. Increase following distances to a minimum of five to six seconds to allow additional braking room.

Pack an emergency kit containing a snow shovel, flashlight, ice scraper, jumper cables, warning devices and extra warm clothing for everyone riding in the vehicle. Charge your mobile phone before leaving home. Bring water and snacks for you, your passengers and pets.

Visit AAA.com/winterprep for more advice on getting your vehicle ready and what to put in your emergency kit.

Methodology:

AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Markit, a London-based business information provider. For the purposes of this forecast, the year-end holiday travel period is defined as the period from Wednesday, Dec. 23 to Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. The 12-day holiday period is the same length as last year. This forecast was finalized during the week of Nov. 23.

In cooperation with AAA, IHS Markit developed a unique methodology to forecast actual domestic travel volumes, using 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. For the 2020 year-end holiday travel forecast, IHS Markit also examined changes in the IHS Markit containment index regarding local COVID-19-related restrictions as well as the national case count and trend.

About AAA

AAA provides more than 61 million members with automotive, travel, insurance and financial services through its federation of 32 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.

AAA Holiday Travel Forecast 2020

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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 820,000 members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services, and is an affiliate of AAA National, serving more than 61 million motorists in North America.