ORLANDO, Fla.–Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer, and Americans will kick off the season by traveling in near-record numbers. More than 41.5 million Americans will travel this Memorial Day weekend, nearly 5 percent more than last year and the most in more than a dozen years, according to AAA projections based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Markit.
“The highest gas prices since 2014 won’t keep travelers home this Memorial Day weekend,” Bill Sutherland, senior vice president, AAA Travel and Publishing, says. “A strong economy and growing consumer confidence are giving Americans all the motivation they need to kick off what we expect to be a busy summer travel season with a Memorial Day getaway.”
The vast majority of travelers (36.6 million) will hit the road this Memorial Day, 4.7 percent more than last year. In comparison, a million people will travel by air—a 6.8 percent increase and the fifth consecutive year of air volume increases. Travel by trains, buses, and cruise ships will increase by 2.4 percent as well to 1.8 million passengers.
With nearly 2 million additional people taking to planes, trains, automobiles, and other modes of transportation, INRIX, a global transportation analytics company, expects travel delays on major roads could be up to three times longer than normal, with the busiest days being Thursday and Friday (May 24 and 25) as commuters mix with holiday travelers.
“Ranked the most congested country in the world, U.S. drivers are all too familiar with sitting in traffic,” Graham Cookson, chief economist and head of research, INRIX, says. “Drivers should expect congestion across a greater number of days than in previous years, with the getaway period starting on Wednesday, May 23. Our advice to drivers is to avoid peak commute times in major cities altogether–traveling late morning or early afternoon–or plan alternative routes.”
Higher Gas Prices Are Not Deterring Travelers
The 88 percent of travelers choosing to drive during the holiday weekend will pay the most expensive Memorial Day gas prices since 2014. Gas prices averaged $2.72 in April, an increase of $0.33 from last year, due to expensive crude oil, record gasoline demand, and shrinking global supply. However, these higher prices are not keeping holiday travelers home, with automobile travel expected to increase for the fourth straight year and nearly 5 percent over last Memorial Day.
Lower Hotel, Airline, and Car Rental Costs
According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, airfares are 7 percent lower than last Memorial Day, landing at an average price of $168 for a round-trip flight along the top 40 domestic routes. At $59, the average daily cost of a car rental this Memorial Day is the lowest rate in the past four years and 11 percent cheaper than last year.
AAA Three Diamond hotels are trending 14 percent less expensive than last Memorial Day, with an average rate of $186 nightly. Meanwhile, AAA Two Diamond hotels are 7 percent more expensive than last Memorial Day, with an average nightly cost of $151.
Top Memorial Day Travel Destinations
Orlando again tops this year’s list of the most-visited Memorial Day destinations in the country, based on AAA advance travel bookings. Cruises to Alaska, originating in Seattle and Anchorage, as well as warm-weather destinations in Hawaii, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and southern California top travelers’ domestic itineraries this summer.
- Las Vegas
- Anchorage, Alaska
- Anaheim, California
- New York City
In terms of overseas vacations, Rome, Dublin, and London are the most popular international travel destinations for Memorial Day weekend.
(Photo courtesy of AAA)