A predicted 48.3 million Americans will be hitting the road this holiday season. - Photo via Wikimedia / Jim Champion

A predicted 48.3 million Americans will be hitting the road this holiday season.

Photo via Wikimedia / Jim Champion

Airports and roads may seem jam-packed this year as AAA predicts 53.4 million people to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, up 13% from 2020. This brings travel volumes within 5% of pre-pandemic levels in 2019, with air travel almost completely recovering from its dramatic fall during the pandemic, up 80% over last year. 

“This Thanksgiving, travel will look a lot different than last year,” says Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel. “Now that the borders are open and new health and safety guidelines are in place, travel is once again high on the list for Americans who are ready to reunite with their loved ones for the holiday.”

With 6.4 million more people traveling this Thanksgiving coupled with the recent opening of the U.S. borders to fully vaccinated international travelers, people should prepare for roads and airports to be noticeably more crowded.

 - Photo via AAA Newsroom

Photo via AAA Newsroom

2021 Thanksgiving Holiday Travelers

“International travel re-opening will allow people to reconnect with friends and family and explore new places, while also giving a much-needed boost to the economy,” adds Twidale. “But it also means airports will be busier than we’ve seen, so travelers must plan for long lines and extra time for TSA checks.”

Navigating the New Travel Landscape

This year’s forecast marks the highest single-year increase in Thanksgiving travelers since 2005, bringing travel volumes close to pre-pandemic levels in 2019. Despite gas costing over a dollar more per gallon than this time last year, 90% of people plan to travel by car as their preferred mode of travel. Although the car is still the most popular choice for travelers, a greater share will opt to travel by air and other modes such as bus, train or cruise this year. AAA collected these pricing statistics on Thanksgiving travel:

  • Air: The 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 with Monday being the lightest and least expensive. 
  • Hotels: Mid-range hotel rates have increased about 39%, with average nightly rates ranging between $137 and $172.
  • Car Rentals: Daily car rental rates have increased 4% compared to last Thanksgiving at $98. ​
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