TAMPA — AAA projects more than 3 million Floridians will travel 50 miles or more during the Thanksgiving holiday travel period*. This year’s forecast is the second highest on record (2005), with an expected 87,000 (3%) more holiday travelers than last year.
“Travel demand has been strong all year and that trend will continue with one of the busiest Thanksgivings on record,” said Debbie Haas, Vice President of Travel for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “With more people taking to the roads, skies, rails and sea; travelers should expect congested roads and longer lines at transportation terminals. AAA encourages travelers to develop their plan now, leave early, and be courteous to others.”
Nationwide, more than 55.3 million Americans are forecast to travel for Thanksgiving. It’s the third-largest travel volume on record, with nearly 1.3 million (2.3%) more than last year, yet fewer than 2019 and 2005 levels.
Most Thanksgiving travelers will drive to their destinations. AAA predicts nearly 2.8 million Floridians will take a road trip of 50 miles or more. That’s nearly 71,000 more Florida drivers (+2.6%) than last year. This year’s forecasted auto travel volume is 10,000 shy of the all-time high, set during the 2005 Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
Thanksgiving road trips should be less costly at the gas pump this year. Despite global tensions causing ripples through the oil market, strong domestic gasoline supplies are causing pump prices to drop. Last Thanksgiving, the national average price for gasoline was $3.58 per gallon, while the state average was $3.41. AAA believes gas prices should remain low through the holiday season unless oil prices suddenly spike. Visit GasPrices.AAA.com to view updated gas price averages.
AAA expects nearly 210,000 Floridians to fly for Thanksgiving. That’s nearly 12,000 (6%) more than 2022, and the second highest air travel volume in 15 years, behind 2019.
Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving are the busiest air travel days ahead of the holiday and the most expensive. While Sunday is typically the busiest day to return home, AAA data shows Monday is also a popular day to fly back after Thanksgiving.
The number of Floridians traveling by cruise, bus, and train over Thanksgiving is up nearly 9% over last year. AAA expects 50,000 travelers to head out of town using these other modes of transportation, which suffered a severe setback during the pandemic, but have rebounded nicely.
“The cruise industry, in particular, has made a remarkable comeback, and thrives during the holidays,” Haas added. “Holiday cruises are highly sought-after as a means for large families to travel together and visit multiple destinations without having to worry about the cooking and cleanup. For those looking to plan a 2024 vacation, this is also a great time to connect with a Travel Advisor, who can navigate the many options available to find the best fit.”
INRIX, a provider of transportation data and insights, expects Wednesday, November 22, to be the busiest day on the roads during the Thanksgiving holiday travel period, with average travel times as high as 80% longer than normal in some metro areas. INRIX recommends leaving in the morning or after 6 p.m. to avoid the heaviest holiday congestion.
“The day before Thanksgiving is notoriously one of the most congested days on our roadways. Travelers should be prepared for long delays, especially in and around major metros,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Knowing when and where congestion will build can help minimize holiday traffic frustrations. We advise drivers to use traffic apps, local DOT notifications, and 511 services for real-time updates.”
Please note – the times listed below are for the time zone the metro is located in. For example, Atlanta routes = ET and Los Angeles routes = PT.
This holiday season, travelers are generally paying less for domestic trips compared to last year and more for international vacations. The one exception is airfare, which is slightly more expensive for domestic flights this season and a bit lower for international flights. Here’s a breakdown of average booking prices for November and December, according to AAA data:
• The average price for a domestic flight is $681, up 5% from 2022.
• The average price for an international flight is $1,231, down 5.7% from last year.
• The average price for a domestic hotel stay is $598, down 12% from 2022.
• The average price for an international hotel stay is $772, up 5% from last year.
• The average price for a domestic rental car reservation is $590, down 20% from 2022.
• The average price for an international rental car reservation is $696, up 9% from last year.
• The average price for a domestic cruise is $1,507, down 12% compared to 2022.
• The average price for an international cruise is $2,902, up 24% from last year.
• The average price for a domestic tour is $1,058, down 15% compared to 2022.
• The average price for an international tour is $1,208, up 21% from last year.
• Get a full vehicle inspection before setting out on your trip.
• Leave early and allow extra time to get to your destination, so you are not in a rush.
• Identify alternate routes in case you encounter congestion or road closures.
• Avoid distractions while driving. Program your GPS before your drive.
• Check-in early online.
• Monitor your flight status using your air carrier’s mobile app.
• Arrive 2-3 hours before scheduled departure.
• Pack medications and an extra set of clothes in your carry-on bag, just in case your flight is delayed or cancelled.
Tips for Air Travelers who Have Not Booked their Flight Yet:
• Book a flight that leaves early in the day. Flights in the afternoon and evening are more susceptible to delays and cancellations.
• Book a direct flight. Otherwise, build in extra time between connections, in case your first flight is delayed.
• Consider traveling on Thanksgiving Day. This could offer the best combination of availability and price.
“It’s not too late to purchase travel insurance, which can be extremely valuable for air travelers,” Haas said. “There are policies that can provide compensation for flight delays for as little as three hours. And if a flight is cancelled, passengers can receive compensation for covered out-of-pocket expenses.”
Warm weather destinations, theme parks, tourist attractions, historic sites, and cruise port cities top the list of domestic and international destinations this holiday season.
With more people sharing the roads, the danger is multiplied for those on the roadside. AAA reminds motorists to slow down and move over for first responders, tow trucks, and any motorist with a disabled vehicle on the side of the road.
“We want to make sure all holiday travelers, tow truck drivers and first responders make it home safely this Thanksgiving,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman, AAA – The Auto Club Group. “All drivers can help by moving over for flashing lights, whether it’s a tow truck or a disabled vehicle with its hazard lights on. Even if it adds a few minutes to your commute, that small gesture could save a life.”
Holiday Forecast Methodology
In cooperation with AAA, S&P Global Market Intelligence developed a unique methodology to forecast actual domestic travel volumes. The economic variables used to forecast travel for the current holiday are leveraged from S&P Global Market Intelligence’s proprietary databases. These data include macroeconomic drivers such as employment, output, household net worth, asset prices including stock indices, interest rates, housing market indicators, and variables related to travel and tourism including gasoline prices, airline travel, and hotel stays. AAA and S&P Global Market Intelligence have quantified holiday travel volumes going back to 2000.
Historical travel volume estimates come from DK SHIFFLET’s TRAVEL PERFORMANCE/MonitorSM. The PERFORMANCE/MonitorSM is a comprehensive study measuring the travel behavior of U.S. residents. DK SHIFFLET contacts over 50,000 U.S. households each month to obtain detailed travel data, resulting in the unique ability to estimate visitor volume and spending, identify trends, and forecast U.S. travel behavior, all after the trips have been taken.
The travel forecast is reported in person-trips. AAA and SPGMI forecast the total U.S. holiday travel volume and expected mode of transportation. The travel forecast presented in this report was prepared the week of October 9, 2023.
For the purposes of this forecast, the Thanksgiving holiday travel period is defined as the five-day period from Wednesday, November 22 to Sunday, November 26.