AAA: Thanksgiving Travel Rebounds to near Pre-Pandemic Levels

Expect crowded roads, airports as 53 Million Americans including 746,000 Oregonians travel for turkey

Updated November 24, 2021

PORTLAND, Ore., – AAA projects 53.4 million Americans (16.2% of the population) will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, up 13% from 2020. This brings travel within 5% of pre-pandemic levels in 2019, and this is the highest single-year increase in Thanksgiving travel since 2005. About 746,000 Oregonians will head over the river and through the woods for turkey and all the trimmings.

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AAA Thanksgiving Travel Forecast 2021

While 90% of travelers will drive to their Thanksgiving destinations, air travel is seeing a huge bump this year, up 80% compared to 2020. With 6.4 million more people traveling this Thanksgiving, along with the recent opening of U.S. borders to fully vaccinated international travelers, people should expect busy roads and airports. The Thanksgiving holiday travel period is defined as Wednesday, November 24 through Sunday, November 28.

“Travel is again high on the list for Americans who’re looking forward to spending time with family and friends this Thanksgiving. But it means travelers should plan for roads and airports to be noticeably more crowded than what we experienced during the pandemic. Pack your patience and expect delays,” says Marie Dodds, public affairs director for AAA Oregon/Idaho.

“Thanksgiving travel looks much different this year. Whether you go by car or plane, it’s important to know how to navigate the new travel landscape to avoid unnecessary stress and challenges during your trip,” says Doreen Loofburrow, senior vice president of travel for AAA Oregon/Idaho. “The travel industry is impacted by the same staffing challenges as other industries, as well as limited flight capacity. Still, it’s possible to have a fun and unforgettable trip!”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released its recommendations for holiday gatherings and related travel, saying that the best way to minimize COVID-19 risk is to get vaccinated if you’re eligible. AAA urges anyone considering gathering or traveling for Thanksgiving to consult CDC guidance before finalizing holiday plans.

AAA Thanksgiving Travel Forecast 2021

2021 Thanksgiving Holiday Travelers
Total Automobile Air Other

(Bus, Train, Cruise)

2021 (Forecast) 53.4M 48.3M 4.2M 1M
2020 (Actual) 47.1M 44.5M 2.3M 281,000
2019 (Actual) 56M 49.9M 4.6M 1.5M
Change (2019 to 2021) −5% −3% −9% −31%
Change (2020 to 2021) +13% +8% +80% +262%

Most will travel by car

AAA projects 90.3% of travelers (48.3 million Americans) will drive to their Thanksgiving destination. This is an 8.4% increase from 2020.

In Oregon, roughly 652,000 travelers will drive.

While automobile travel will increase this year, it will remain lower than 2019 when 49.9 million Americans drove; however, will exceed the volume of travelers seen as recently as 2018 when 48 million drove to their Thanksgiving destinations.

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

Thanksgiving air travel will increase by 80% this year, recovering almost completely from its dramatic fall in 2020. AAA expects 4.2 million, will fly, an increase of 1.86 million from last year and the highest single year increase on record.

Approximately 86,000 Oregonians will travel by air. In all, 7.8% of Thanksgiving travelers will fly to their destinations.

Even with the jump in air travel this year, AAA finds that the lowest average lowest airfare is 27.3% less than last year coming in at $132.

Tuesday and Wednesday are still the most expensive and heaviest travel days for air travel, with Monday being the lightest and least expensive. Those wanting to book last minute travel will find the best fares about two weeks before Thanksgiving, 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 January 18, 2022.

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.

Travel by other modes, including buses, trains, and cruises, will rise to 1 million, an increase of 262% from 2020. While this volume represents the highest single year increase on record, it remains well below the 1.5 million travelers in 2019. Roughly 13,000 Oregonians will travel by these modes this year.

AAA Thanksgiving Travel Forecast 2021

Gas Prices Significantly Higher than Last Year

Those who decide to hit the road for Thanksgiving will find gas prices at least a dollar per gallon more expensive than last year. The national average is at its most expensive for the holiday since 2012, while the Oregon average has never been this high for the holiday.

The current (Nov. 24, 2021) national average for regular unleaded is $3.40 and the Oregon average is $3.78.

“High gas prices aren’t keeping people home. Those who need to trim expenses will do so in other ways such as limiting dining out and looking for more budget-friendly choices in accommodations and other activities,” says Dodds.

AAA members can fill up for even less at Shell stations when they join the Fuel Rewards® program at 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 Wednesday Afternoon

With Thanksgiving one of the busiest holidays for road trips, drivers can expect congestion as commuters leave work early and mix with holiday travelers, especially on Wednesday afternoon and evening. 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.

“Drivers should expect that their trips could take significantly longer than usual. If possible, try to hit the road outside of the peak travel times,” says Dodds.

Daily Worst and Best Times to Travel
Day Worst Time Best Time
Wednesday 12:00 – 8:00PM After 9:00PM
Thursday 12:00 – 3:00PM Before 11:00AM
Friday 1:00 – 4:00PM Before 11:00AM
Saturday 2:00 – 7:00PM Before 12:00PM
Sunday 1:00 – 7:00PM Before 12:00PM
Source: INRIX

AAA Thanksgiving Travel Forecast 2021

Top Thanksgiving destinations

These are the trending destinations for domestic and international travel for members of AAA Oregon/Idaho based on bookings done by our AAA travel agents and at AAA Travel continues to see a strong recovery that began over the summer and will last into the holiday season. Big cities and warm destinations are topping travelers’ lists this Thanksgiving:

Top 10 Domestic

  • Anaheim, CA – Disneyland
  • Fort Lauderdale/Miami, FL
  • Orlando, FL
  • San Diego, CA
  • Maui, HI
  • Honolulu, HI
  • San Francisco, CA
  • Kauai, HI
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Phoenix, AZ

Top 10 International:

  • Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Barcelona, Italy
  • Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
  • Budapest, Hungary
  • Munich, Germany
  • Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
  • Cancun, Mexico
  • Paris, France
  • Rome, Italy

AAA Thanksgiving Travel Forecast 2021

Hotels, rental cars cost more

 According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, rates for AAA Three Diamond Rated lodgings are up 49% to an average of $374 per night up from $252 a year ago. The average rate for a AAA Two Diamond Rated hotel is up 46% with an average nightly cost of $148 up from $102 last year.

Daily car rental rates have increased 4% compared to last Thanksgiving to $98. Over the summer, consumers experienced high costs and limited availability of rental cars in some markets due to the semi-conductor chip shortage impacting automakers. While this shortage has subsided, it could return as demand increases over Thanksgiving and the year-end holidays.

 What to know before you go – AAA tips for travelers

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

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

AAA has tips for Thanksgiving 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. 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 this Thanksgiving, 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. As of November 8, the U.S. opened its borders to fully vaccinated international travelers. The CDC has updated its guidance to reflect these changes. When traveling within the U.S., fully vaccinated travelers do not need a negative viral test or to self-quarantine. For international travel, refer to the CDC for specific guidelines.
  • 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 coronavirus pandemic. Find a trusted mechanic nearby at
  • 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 rescue more than 400,000 Americans including 8,600 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), 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. However, if your vehicle has been sitting idle these systems are particularly vulnerable to deteriorating especially without proper care or maintenance. 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, don’t wait to book your flights, accommodations, rental cars and activities if you haven’t done so already. We’re expecting another big bump in travel at the end of the year, so make those arrangements now. Prices won’t be going down. Consider working with a travel agent to help you plan as seamless a trip as possible,” 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.

 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 Thanksgiving Travel Forecast 2021

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