Holiday travel still expected to be below pre-pandemic levels

Holiday Tree Washington
Posted at 6:50 AM, Dec 12, 2022

Despite social distancing largely being in the past and gas prices nearing normal levels, fewer Americans are expected to travel this holiday season compared to 2019.

According to AAA, 112.7 million Americans are expected to go at least 50 miles at some point between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2, a decrease of about 7 million compared to 2019. Travel will be up by about 2 million compared to a year ago.

There are about 3 million additional Americans expected to travel this upcoming holiday season.

The overwhelming majority are expected to travel by car. Nearly 101.8 million Americans will venture at least 50 miles by automobile, compared to 7.2 million who will fly. An additional 3.7 million are expected to use other forms of transportation, including trains and busses.

Because Christmas and New Year’s Day both fall on Sundays, AAA expects when people will travel will be spread out.

“This year, travel time will be extended due to Christmas Day and New Year’s Day falling on Sundays,” says Paula Twidale, AAA’s senior vice president of travel. “With hybrid work schedules, we are seeing more people take long weekends to travel because they can work remotely at their destination and be more flexible with the days they depart and return.”

The busiest travel days are expected to be Dec. 23, Dec. 27, Dec. 28 and Jan. 2. AAA and INRIX expect roads to be most congested in the late afternoons.

“Drivers must be prepared for delays in and around major metro areas, with Tuesday, Dec. 27 expected to be the nation’s worst day to travel,” says Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Our advice is to avoid traveling during peak commuting hours. If schedules allow, leave bright and early or after the afternoon commute.”

Gas prices in 2019 averaged around $2.53, according to federal data. Some experts have suggested gas prices could drop below $3 by the end of the year.