AAA: Thanksgiving Travel Just Shy of Pre-Pandemic Levels

AAA expects the third-busiest Thanksgiving holiday since 2000 with nearly 55 million Americans including 777,000 Oregonians to travel for turkey

Updated Nov. 23, 2022

PORTLAND, Ore., – AAA projects 54.6 million Americans (16.4% of the population) will travel 50 miles or more from home for the Thanksgiving holiday, up 1.5% from 2021 and 98% of volume in 2019. This year is expected to be the third-busiest for Thanksgiving travel since AAA started tracking in 2000, only behind 2005 and 2019. About 777,000 Oregonians will head over the river and through the woods for turkey and all the trimmings. The Thanksgiving holiday travel period is defined as Wednesday, November 23 through Sunday, November 27.

Thanksgiving travel forecast 2022

Thanksgiving travel volumes 2001-2022

Despite high gas prices, 89% of travelers will drive to their Thanksgiving destinations. Air travel is seeing an 8% increase for the holiday, despite a chaotic year in the skies. Americans are also heading to their Thanksgiving destination by other modes of travel including bus, train or cruise ship. These modes are up 23% over last year. Find all the details below.

“Americans are eager to carve out time to see family and friends this Thanksgiving. The long holiday weekend is shaping up to be one of the busiest for travel in the past two decades. Whether you’re driving or flying, plan ahead and expect delays,” says Marie Dodds, public affairs director for AAA Oregon/Idaho.

“With travel restrictions lifted and more people comfortable taking trips again, it’s no surprise that Thanksgiving travel is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels. Regardless of how you’re getting to your destination, expect crowds during your trip and at your destination. If your schedule is flexible, consider off-peak travel times during the holiday rush,” says Doreen Loofburrow, senior vice president of travel for AAA Oregon/Idaho.

Thanksgiving travel projections 2022

Most will travel by car

AAA projects 89.1% of travelers (49 million Americans) will drive to their Thanksgiving destination. This is a tiny increase – just .4% more than 2021, representing an additional 200,000 cars on the road.

In Oregon, roughly 666,000 travelers will drive.

While automobile travel will increase this year, it will remain lower than 2019 when 49.9 million Americans drove.

The share of trips by car is lower this year. During the pandemic in 2020, 94.6% drove to their Thanksgiving destinations as people were more comfortable with traveling by car. As conditions continue to improve, the share of travel by car is starting to move back toward pre-pandemic levels.

Air travel sees boost; air fares more expensive

Thanksgiving air travel will increase by 8% this year, soaring to more than 4.5 million travelers flying over the holiday weekend. This is the third highest volume since AAA started tracking in 2000.

Despite flight delays, cancellations, limited inventory, and labor shortages, the 2022 share of travel via air will be 8.3%, the highest since 2007 prior to the recession.

Approximately 94,000 Oregonians will travel by air.

It costs more to fly this Thanksgiving. AAA finds that the lowest average airfare is 22% more than last year coming in at $166.

Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving are the busiest days for air travel, while Sunday is the most expensive. The lightest and least expensive day to fly is Thanksgiving Day.

Those wanting to book last-minute travel and who are flexible with travel plans may find the best fares about seven to 14 days before Thanksgiving, but availability will be limited. Travelers who want to be at their destination on a certain date are best to book flights well in advance.

Those who fly should 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.

Advice for Air Travelers 

  • 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 possible, avoid airports for connecting flights where winter weather can lead to delays, including Chicago O’Hare, Newark Liberty, LaGuardia, Denver, and JFK.
  • 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.
  • 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 along with potential staffing shortages 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 since some airports and flights still have reduced meal and beverage service. 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.

Travel by bus, train and cruise also rises

Travel by other modes, including buses, trains, and cruises, will climb to 1.4 million, an increase of 23% from 2021. This is just shy of the 1.5 million travelers in 2019.

Roughly 17,000 Oregonians will travel by these modes this year.

Gas Prices highest ever for Thanksgiving

Gas prices have never been more expensive for Thanksgiving with the national and Oregon averages at their highest prices ever for the holiday. Those who decide to hit the road for Thanksgiving will find gas prices that are as much as 85 cents a gallon more expensive than last year.

The current (as of Nov. 23) national average for regular unleaded is $3.61 and the Oregon average is $4.56.

Find current fuel prices at GasPrices.AAA.com.

Thanksgiving gas prices 2008 - 2021

“High gas prices have never stopped people from traveling, especially at Thanksgiving which is a family-oriented holiday. Can you imagine telling your mom that you won’t be there for turkey because gas prices are too high? Those who need to cut down on expenses will do so in other ways, such as limiting dining out and shopping, and looking for more budget-friendly choices in accommodations and other activities,” says Dodds.

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 Wednesday

Drivers can expect congestion on the days before Thanksgiving and again on Sunday as travelers return home. Wednesday afternoon and evening will be the busiest as commuters leave work early and mix with holiday travelers. Tuesday afternoon and evening will also see more traffic. 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.

“With Thanksgiving being one of the busiest holidays for road trips, drivers should expect peak traffic delays on Tuesday and Wednesday as folks head to their destinations, and again on Sunday as travelers drive back home. Congestion will also be heavier than normal throughout the holiday weekend. Knowing the busiest travel times can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in stop-and-go traffic,” says Dodds.

Daily Worst and Best Times to Travel by Car
Day Worst Time Best Time
Tuesday 3 – 8 PM Before noon, After 8 PM
Wednesday 11 AM – 8 PM Before 8 AM, After 8 PM
Thursday 11 AM – 3 PM Before 11 AM, After 6 PM
Friday 4 PM – 8 PM Before 11 AM, After 8:00 PM
Saturday 4 PM – 8 PM Before 2 PM, After 8 PM
Sunday 4 PM – 8 PM Before 11 AM, After 8 PM
Source: INRIX

Top Thanksgiving destinations

These are the trending destinations for domestic and international travel for members of AAA Oregon/Idaho based on bookings by our AAA travel agents and at AAA.com.

  1. Anaheim, CA
  2. Maui, HI
  3. Las Vegas, NV
  4. Phoenix, AZ
  5. Oahu, HI
  6. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
  7. San Diego, CA
  8. Orlando, FL
  9. Fort Lauderdale, FL
  10. Cancun, Mexico

These are the top regional destinations for members of AAA Oregon/Idaho based on bookings by our AAA travel agents and on AAA.com.

  1. Bend, OR
  2. Seattle, WA
  3. Lincoln City, OR
  4. Redding, CA
  5. Sacramento, CA
  6. Medford/Ashland/Central Point, OR
  7. Newport, OR
  8. Boise, ID
  9. Spokane, WA
  10. San Francisco, CA

Hotels cost more, rental cars cost slightly less

 According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, rates for AAA Three Diamond Rated lodgings are up 17% to an average of $218 per night up from $187 a year ago. The average rate for a AAA Two Diamond Rated hotel is up 14% with an average nightly cost of $169 up from $148 last year.

Daily car rental rates have decreased 7% to $90 compared to $98 last Thanksgiving. While last year’s rental car shortage has eased, the semi-conductor chip shortage is still impacting availability of new vehicles. See AAA’s rental cars do’s and don’ts for advice.

What to know before you go – AAA tips for travelers

  • 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. Last 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 during the Thanksgiving weekend. Find a trusted mechanic nearby at AAA.com/repair.

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 rescue more than 411,000 Americans including 8,000 Oregonians at the roadside this Thanksgiving. Dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires are the top three issues.

AAA makes it easy to request assistance – by phone (800-222-HELP) or the AAA app – 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.

Holiday travel

“If you’re planning to travel for the year-end holidays, make your plans now if you haven’t done so already. Book your flights, accommodations, rental cars and activities as soon as possible. With travel returning to pre-pandemic levels, availability will be tight. Consider working with a travel agent to help you plan your trip and get the best bang for your buck,” says Loofburrow.

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 and IHS Markit 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 IHS Markit 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 10, 2022.

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.

Thanksgiving travel forecast 2022

Find current fuel prices at GasPrices.AAA.com.

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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 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.