ORLANDO, FLA. – AAA projects 54.3 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more away from home this Thanksgiving, a 4.8 percent increase over last year. The 2018 holiday weekend will see the highest Thanksgiving travel volume in more than a dozen years (since 2005), with 2.5 million more people taking to the nation’s roads, skies, rails and waterways compared with last year. For the 48.5 million Americans planning a Thanksgiving road trip, INRIX, a global mobility analytics company, predicts travel times in the most congested cities in the U.S. could be as much as four times longer than a normal trip.
“Consumers have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season: higher wages, more disposable income and rising levels of household wealth,” said Bill Sutherland, AAA Travel senior vice president. “This is translating into more travelers kicking off the holiday season with a Thanksgiving getaway, building on a positive year for the travel industry.”
The Thanksgiving holiday period is defined as Wednesday, November 21 to Sunday, November 25.
By the Numbers: 2018 Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Forecast
- Automobiles: The vast majority of travelers – 48.5 million – will hit the road this Thanksgiving, nearly 5 percent more than last year.
- Planes: The largest growth in holiday travel is by air, at 5.4 percent, with 4.27 million travelers.
- Trains, Buses and Cruise Ships: Travel across these sectors will increase by 1.4 percent, with a total 1.48 million passengers.
Drivers Beware: Thanksgiving’s Terrible Traffic
Based on historical and recent travel trends, INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts drivers will experience the greatest amount of congestion Thanksgiving week during the early evening commute period, with travel times starting to increase on Monday. Drivers in San Francisco, New York City and Boston will see the largest delays – nearly quadruple normal drive times.
“Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips, and this year will be no different,” says Trevor Reed, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic. Our advice to drivers is to avoid commuting times in major cities altogether or plan alternative routes.”
In most cases, the best days to travel will be on Thanksgiving Day, Friday or Saturday. Drivers should expect increased travel times on Sunday as most holiday travelers will be making their way home after the long weekend.
Worst Times to Hit the Road in America’s Largest Cities
Worst Day for Travel
Worst Time for Travel
2:00 - 4:00 PM
TX-8 Beltway E, TX249 to I69
4:00 - 6:00 PM
I-495 S, exit 41 to 33
4:00 - 6:00 PM
I-5 S, exit 178 to 149
5:00 - 7:00 PM
I-75 N, exit 216 to 227
5:00 - 7:00 PM
Capital Beltway Clockwise
5:30 - 7:30 PM
US-23 N, exit 35 to 49
6:00 - 8:00 PM
I-95 W, exit 7 to Hamilton Bridge
1:00 - 3:00 PM
I-680 N, exit 8 to 21
2:30 - 4:30 PM
I-94 W, exit 40A to 1
2:30 - 4:30 PM
I-5 S, exit 79 to 54B
Across the country, travelers who take to the sky must account for long security lines, but also increased drive times to the airport. INRIX expects delays getting to the nation’s busiest airports could be as long as an hour and a half.
Worst Travel Times to America’s Busiest Airports
Downtown to DFW via TX-183 W
Downtown to SFO via US-101 S
Downtown to DIA via I-70 E and Pena Blvd
Downtown to JFK via Long Island Expressway East
1 hr 19 min
Downtown to LAX via I-110 S
Downtown to ALT via I-75 S
Downtown to CLT via US-74 W
Downtown to LAS via I-15 S
Downtown to ORD via Kennedy Expressway West
1 hr 37 min
Downtown to SEA via I-5 S
Higher Gas Prices Not Keeping Holiday Travelers Home
Motorists can expect to pay the highest Thanksgiving gas prices in four years, with a national average of $2.79 as of November 1, 31-cents more than a year ago.
“Motorists have become accustomed to this year’s more expensive gas prices and won’t let higher fuel costs deter them from taking Thanksgiving road trips,” said AAA gas price expert Jeanette Casselano.
Best Times to Fly and Book Thanksgiving Flights
An analysis of AAA’s flight booking data from the last three years revealed that the Tuesday and Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving are usually the most popular air travel days and have the highest average price per roundtrip ticket. Meanwhile, Thanksgiving Day consistently has the lowest average price per ticket and is the lightest travel day. Travelers looking to save money this holiday season can fly the morning of the holiday and arrive just in time for Thanksgiving dinner.
3-Year Average Ticket Price
Monday (November 19, 2018)
Tuesday (November 20, 2018)
Wednesday (November 21, 2018)
Thursday (November 22, 2018)
Most travelers booked their flights for Thanksgiving between September 23 and October 25, paying an average ticket price of $478 roundtrip. Procrastinating travelers who still need to book their flights may find cheaper airfares, paying an average ticket price of $459 between now and November 15. However, last-minute flight availability will likely be very limited.
Car Rental Costs Fall, Hotel Prices Mixed
Travelers can expect to save on car rentals this Thanksgiving holiday season. At $63, the average daily rate is 10 percent less than last year, according to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index. Travelers can also save on AAA Three Diamond hotels, with an average nightly rate of $166, a decline of six percent compared to last year. Conversely, the average rate for AAA Two Diamond hotels has increased six percent with an average nightly cost of $124.
Top 10 Thanksgiving Destinations
Many travelers will seek iconic American cities, theme parks and other warm-weather destinations this Thanksgiving. Orlando, New York City and Anaheim top this year’s top 10 holiday destinations based on AAA’s online and travel agency air and tour bookings. Punta Cana, Dallas/Fort Worth and Miami are all gaining popularity as holiday spots compared with last year.
1. Orlando, Florida
2. New York, New York
3. Anaheim, California
4. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
5. Las Vegas, Nevada
6. Cancun, Mexico
7. Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas
8. Honolulu, Hawaii
9. Washington, DC
10. Miami, Florida