BOISE – It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and according to AAA, it will also be one of the busiest. According to new projections, more than 109 million Americans will celebrate the holidays with a trip to see family and friends, with 593,000 Idahoans among them.
This year, the holiday travel period runs from December 23 through January 2, 2022. The busiest days on the roads will be December 22 and 23. The busiest day at the airport will be December 23. Travelers should add extra time to reach their destinations, and check-in for flights the day before.
“This year is being seen as a ‘do-over’ from 2020, and travel volumes have been really strong for every major holiday,” says AAA Idaho public affairs director Matthew Conde. “Whatever the challenges, pent-up travel demand will continue through the end of the year.”
AAA predicts that nearly 28 million more people – a 34% increase – will head over the river and through the woods on a holiday vacation this year than last, despite higher crude oil and gas prices and shaky consumer confidence. While $3.50 per gallon has historically been the pain threshold that causes many drivers to modify their plans, the desire to make up for lost time may motivate travelers to adjust their budget in other ways this year.
Today, Idaho’s average price for regular fuel is $3.62 per gallon, which is seven cents less than a month ago and $1.38 more than a year ago. Meanwhile, the national average currently sits at $3.32 per gallon, which is nine cents less than a month ago and $1.16 more than a year ago.
“It may mean one less activity at your end destination or a simpler Christmas dinner, but those who are determined to travel this holiday season will find a way to reunite with their loved ones, whatever it takes,” Conde said. “Bundling errands and avoiding peak drive times in your daily activities could put a few dollars back in your pocket before your trip.”
Travel by mode
100 million Americans, or 91% of all holiday travelers, will take the family sleigh for a trip this year, which is 22 million more than last year and just eight million below pre-pandemic levels.
AAA predicts that air travel will increase by 184%, with more than six million people expected to fly this year. Air traffic volumes will return to 92% of pre-pandemic levels.
While most travelers will visit family for the holidays, some will seek outdoor recreation and physical distancing at ski areas and National Parks, or theme parks and warmer weather across the Southwest U.S. and Florida.
Travel by other modes also continues to rebound. Three million Americans will seek out holiday cheer by train, bus, or cruise ship, which is two million more than a year ago.
Hotel prices, airfares, car rentals bring a lump of coal this year
AAA Two and Three-Diamond nightly hotel rates are about 36% higher than last year, while airfares are up about 5%. Due to the lingering effects of the global semiconductor chip shortage, rental car inventories are limited, which has contributed to a 20% increase in daily rental rates this year.
If you book a last-minute flight, you’ll find some of the cheapest prices on airfare, but that may be offset by limited availability or more connecting flights to your preferred destination. AAA recommends A.M. flights, as the risk of cancellations and delays increases throughout the day.
“During the pandemic, hotel chains have really ramped up their cleaning efforts,” Conde said. “To make sure these policies are being fully implemented, AAA launched the Inspected Clean program. In a first-of-its-kind process, our full-time inspectors use an industry-leading device to test common hotel surfaces in randomly selected rooms for the presence of living and once-living molecules.” For more information on AAA Inspected hotels, visit AAA.com/Diamonds.
Masks are required at airports, on airplanes, and at train and bus stations. Strict U.S. guidelines now require all inbound international travelers, regardless of nationality or vaccination status, to present a negative COVID-19 viral test result within one day of departure for the United States. Use hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes to clean high-touch surfaces on planes and in hotel rooms.
Drivers can review the AAA COVID-19 Travel Restrictions map for the latest information, and for additional peace of mind, book their trips with the help of an experienced travel agent.
Virtual holiday advice
For those who can’t gather in person, AAA offers these tips to make the season merry and bright:
- Organize a virtual sing-along or holiday movie watch party
- Swap holiday recipes and share photos in a virtual cook-off
- Shop online and send presents to family and friends
- Host a virtual party and take turns unwrapping presents
AAA to the rescue
AAA is planning for 917,000 calls for emergency road service, including 1,700 here in Idaho.
“As with any big journey, taking your car to a trusted mechanic for a pre-trip inspection can prevent a lot of headaches later,” Conde said. “If you’re involved in a crash or vehicle disablement, use emergency lights or reflectors to warn other drivers, and stay with your vehicle if it’s safe to do so. If you must run the engine to stay warm, make sure the tailpipe is free of snow and other debris.”
Slow down, move over
AAA encourages drivers to watch for emergency vehicles, including tow trucks and incident response trucks. If you approach a vehicle with flashing lights, please slow down below the speed limit and, if possible, move over one lane to provide additional space for emergency workers