U.S. Travel is Expected to Rebound for Memorial Day Weekend

Vacation - leisure travel

ORLANDO, Florida — AAA Travel expects a significant rebound in the number of U.S. travelers planning a trip for Memorial Day weekend. From May 27 through May 31, more than 37 million people are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home, an increase of 60 percent from last year when only 23 million traveled, the lowest on record since AAA began recording in 2000.

The expected strong increase in demand from last year’s holiday, which fell during the early phase of the pandemic, still represents 13 percent — or nearly 6 million — fewer travelers than in 2019. AAA urges those who choose to travel this year to exercise caution and take measures to protect themselves and others as the pandemic continues.

“As more people get the COVID-19 vaccine and consumer confidence grows, Americans are demonstrating a strong desire to travel this Memorial Day,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel. “This pent-up demand will result in a significant increase in Memorial Day travel, which is a strong indicator for summer, though we must all remember to continue taking important safety precautions.”

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AAA notes that the actual number of holiday travelers could fluctuate as Memorial Day approaches. If there is an increase in reported cases attributed to new COVID-19 variants, some people may decide to stay home, while others may note the strong progress in vaccinations and make last-minute travel decisions. AAA recommends working with a travel agent to make any last-minute changes to travel plans and explore insurance options to help U.S. travelers plan vacations that meet their needs and comfort levels.

Another factor contributing to the expected increase in travel this holiday is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recently updated guidance that fully vaccinated people can travel domestically at low risk to themselves while taking proper precautions. It’s important to keep in mind that some local and state travel restrictions may still remain in place, however.

For travelers who are not vaccinated but choose to travel, CDC recommends social distancing, wearing a mask, washing hands, and getting tested before and after travel. Whether vaccinated or not, masks are required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.

AAA Travel has noted significant recent increases in online traffic and bookings, particularly for hotels and car rentals, heading into the summer travel season. AAA booking data revealed that domestic travel and road trips remain the biggest drivers of travel recovery in the near term. Orlando and Las Vegas are top Memorial Day destinations this year, both for AAA Travel bookings and TripTik road trip searches. Other top destinations include:

  • Road Trips:
    1. Las Vegas, Nevada
    2. Orlando, Florida
    3. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
    4. Denver, Colorado
    5. Nashville, Tennessee
  • AAA Travel Bookings:
    1. Orlando, Florida
    2. Las Vegas, Nevada
    3. Honolulu, Hawaii
    4. Anchorage, Alaska
    5. Colorado Springs, Colorado
Most U.S. Travelers Will Opt for Road Trips

With 34 million U.S. travelers planning Memorial Day road trips, auto travel is expected to increase 52 percent compared to 2020. Nearly 12 million more U.S. travelers will venture by car this holiday than in 2020, though this is still 9 percent less than in 2019. More than 9 in 10 Memorial Day travelers will drive to their destinations, as many U.S. travelers continue to substitute road trips for travel via planes, trains, and other modes of transportation.

After a historically low year of air travel in 2020, this Memorial Day will see nearly 2.5 million U.S. travelers boarding airplanes, nearly six times more than last year (+577 percent). Still, 750,000 fewer people will take to the skies this holiday compared to 2019. AAA reminds air travelers that masks are required in all airports and on flights.

Meanwhile, just 237,000 U.S. travelers are expected to travel by other modes, including bus and train, this Memorial Day. This is the second-lowest volume on record, higher only than the 185,000 who traveled in 2020. In 2021, travel via these modes will be 88 percent below 2019 levels.

Worst Times to Hit the Road

INRIX predicts drivers will encounter the longest travel delays before the holiday weekend, particularly during the afternoons on Thursday, May 27, and Friday, May 28. Drivers in several major U.S. metros could experience double the travel times compared to a normal trip, while Atlanta, Houston, and New York drivers could see more than three times the delay on the busiest corridors.

“Although vehicle trips are down as much as 40 percent in some metros, afternoon congestion is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels. With the increase of holiday travelers to the typical afternoon commute, drivers in the larger metros should expect longer delays heading into the holiday weekend,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst, INRIX. “Travelers should anticipate delays to start on Wednesday and continue through Memorial Day. Our advice to drivers is to avoid the evening commute times and plan alternate routes.”

Gas Prices Will Rise

For the 34 million U.S. travelers expected to travel by car this Memorial Day, they can expect gas prices to be the most expensive since 2014 with the national average possibly more expensive than $3 per gallon.

“We don’t expect higher gas prices to deter motorists this holiday season as many Americans are eager to travel,” said Jeanette C. McGee, AAA spokesperson. “We typically find when pump prices increase, travelers look for more free activities or eat out less while on vacation, but still take their planned trips.”

Gas prices will be increasing in part due to higher demand. As demand increases, gas stations are working to adjust delivery schedules to keep pace. However, there have been instances where some stations are seeing low to no supply at pumps for a few days due to delayed deliveries. Over the holiday weekend, some gas stations in popular travel destinations — like beaches and mountain areas — may experience this situation.

Currently, the Colonial Pipeline, which delivers 45 percent of fuel to the East Coast is offline due to a cyberattack, which will contribute to price increases and limited fuel supply ahead of the holiday. This will affect areas from Mississippi to Tennessee and the East Coast from Georgia into Delaware, but will hopefully be resolved ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

Before hitting the road, AAA reminds motorists to plan their route in advance and ensure their vehicle is ready to help avoid a breakdown along the way. AAA expects to rescue more than 468,000 Americans at the roadside this Memorial Day weekend.

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