AAA: At Least 34 Million Fewer Americans to Travel This Holiday Season

Empty highway with one car

ORLANDO, Fla. — AAA Travel expects the vast majority of Americans to stay home this holiday season. Public health concerns and travel guidance are influencing their decisions not to travel over the year-end holidays, a period that typically sees high demand for vacations. While AAA expects at least 34 million fewer travelers compared to last year’s holiday season, as many as 84.5 million Americans may still travel from Dec. 23 through Jan. 3—a decline in travel of at least 29 percent.

“While Thanksgiving is traditionally spent gathering with friends and family, the year-end holidays are when Americans often venture out for longer, more elaborate vacations. That will not be the case this year,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel. “Public health concerns, official guidance not to travel, and an overall decline in consumer sentiment have encouraged the vast majority of Americans to stay home for the holidays.”

The CDC is urging Americans not to travel for the holidays this year, warning that travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.

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Holiday travelers are continuing to take a wait-and-see approach to their travel decisions. With COVID‑19 cases steadily increasing this month, the expected continued rise will likely prompt some Americans to make last-minute decisions to not follow through with upcoming travel plans, which was the trend during the lead up to Thanksgiving.

Based on mid-October travel forecast models, AAA expected up to 50 million people would travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, which would have been a decline of 10 percent from 2019. While final Thanksgiving travel numbers are not yet available, AAA expects the decline to be closer to 15–20 percent, as the CDC and state and local authorities advised against holiday travel.

Most Americans who make the decision to travel will do so by car, with road trips accounting for 96 percent of holiday travel. Up to 81 million Americans will travel by car, a decline of at least 25 percent compared to last year. Auto travel is expected to replace some trips previously taken by bus, train, or airplane, given the flexibility, security, and comfort traveling by car provides.

2020 Year-End Holiday Travelers

Year

Automobile

Air

Other (Bus, Train, Cruise)

2020

81.1M

2.94M

480,000

2019

108.0M

7.33M

3.89M

Change

−24.9%

−59.9%

−87.7%

As many as 2.9 million travelers are expected to book flights for the holidays, a decline of nearly 60 percent from 2019. Meanwhile, up to 480,000 Americans are expected to travel by other modes, including bus and train this holiday season, a sharp decline of 87 percent as some bus and train trips will be shifted to car travel or canceled.

AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Markit, a London-based business information provider. For the purposes of this forecast, the year-end holiday travel period is defined as the period from Wednesday, Dec. 23 to Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. The 12-day holiday period is the same length as last year. This forecast was finalized during the week of Nov. 23.

 


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