Millions Of Us Traveling Elsewhere For The Holidays

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. 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.

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.

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. 21) national average for regular unleaded is $3.30 and the Oregon average is $3.77. “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.



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