Year-End Holiday Travel Expected to Rebound

Posted on December 14, 2021

AAA predicts crowded roads and skies, with air travel nearly tripling 2020 levels

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Dec. 14, 2021) — AAA is predicting the largest year-end holiday travel increase on record with more than 109 million Americans (4.4 million Ohioans) expected to travel 50 miles or more between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2. These numbers are 34% higher (33% in Ohio) than last year and the fourth highest year-end holiday travel volume on record (behind 2019, 2018 and 2017 respectively).

“Americans who canceled their vacations in 2020 want to gather with family and friends for the holidays this year, although they will still be mindful of the pandemic and the new omicron variant,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel. “With vaccines widely available, conditions are much different and many people feel a greater level of comfort with travel.”

Road Trips:
Road trips remain the top mode of travel during the holidays with 91% of travelers (92% of Ohio travelers) planning to drive to their destinations, despite elevated gas prices. As more than 100 million Americans (4 million Ohioans) hit the roads during the holidays, drivers should be prepared for slowdowns and possible breakdowns.

AAA expects to respond to as many as 1.3 million calls for emergency roadside assistance during the 11-day holiday period. Automotive experts encourage motorists to check key components, like tires, battery, fluid levels and lights before hitting the road.

INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts only marginal delays overall throughout the holiday week. However, major metro areas across the U.S. could see more than double the delays versus typical drive times during peak times.

Daily Worst and Best Times to Travel

Date Worst travel time Best travel time

12/23/21 12:00–6:00pm After 7:00pm

12/24/21 2:00–6:00pm Before 1:00pm

12/25/21 Minimal congestion expected

12/26/21 1:00–7:00pm Before 12:00pm

12/27/21 5:00–6:00pm Before 1:00pm

12/28/21 1:00–7:00pm Before 12:00pm

12/29/21 1:00–7:00pm Before 11:00am

12/30/21 1:00–7:00pm Before 12:00pm

12/31/21 2:00–4:00pm Before 1:00pm, after 5:00pm

1/1/22 Minimal congestion expected

1/2/22 2:00–6:00pm Before 1:00pm

Source: INRIX

Air Travel:

AAA expects air travel to jump 184% nationally (181% in Ohio) from last year, with 6.4 million Americans (nearly 232,000 Ohioans), planning to fly this holiday season. This is nearly triple 2020 year-end holiday air travel numbers and within 87% of 2019’s pre-pandemic numbers (90% in Ohio).

A recent analysis of AAA’s flight booking data reveals that ticket prices for Christmas week are up 5% from last year, with the average lowest round-trip fare of $154 for major U.S. destinations. New Year’s prices are up 27%, with the average lowest fare at $182.

AAA urges air travelers to pack their patience, plan for possible delays and cancellations, and get to the airport 2-3 hours ahead of scheduled flights.

Popular Destinations:

AAA booking data through October shows theme-park-heavy destinations top the list of popular domestic travel spots. Top U.S. destinations include:

  1. Orlando, FL
  2. Anaheim, CA
  3. Las Vegas, NV
  4. New York, NY; Kahului, Maui, HI (tie)
  5. Honolulu, HI
  6. Miami, FL
  7. Fort Lauderdale, FL
  8. Tampa, FL
  9. Phoenix, AZ
  10. San Diego, CA

Ohio-specific booking data also shows destinations in Florida top the list for Ohio travelers during the year-end holidays, followed by destinations in the Caribbean, Mexico and Hawaii.

Higher prices this holiday season

.Hotels: Mid-range hotel rates have increased 36% for Christmas stays at AAA Approved hotels, with an average nightly rate of $320. For New Year’s Eve, the average nightly rate is $267.

.Car Rentals: Car rental rates have increased 20% for Christmas travel, with the average lowest daily rate of $130. Rates have increased 65% for New Year’s, with an average lowest daily rate of $103. Rental car companies have been re-building their inventory following a shortage over the summer, but with the increased demand expected around this time of the year, it’s important to book as early as possible.

Forecasted numbers may change

AAA notes that the actual number of travelers could fluctuate as the holidays approach. Some people may decide to stay home if there is an increase in reported COVID-19 cases or because of concerns about the omicron variant, while others may note the progress in vaccinations and make last-minute decisions to travel.

Protect yourself — and your trip

AAA urges anyone considering gathering or traveling for the holidays to consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance. It’s essential to know requirements and recommendations based on your vaccination status, where you’re traveling from and your destination.

A trusted travel advisor can provide advice, serving as an advocate before, during and after a trip. They are equipped to help travelers with questions related to travel insurance options, what destinations and attractions are open both domestically and internationally, destination-specific testing and vaccination requirements, what to do if last-minute changes to a trip are needed and much more.

AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map: helps travelers understand closures, recommendations and requirements when traveling in the U.S. In addition, the CDC has an interactive map with recommendations and information about restrictions for international travel.

Masks are still required for everyone on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of U.S. public transportation and within transportation hubs such as airports and stations. The CDC also recommends everyone wear a mask indoors in public places in an area of substantial or high transmission.

Other things to consider

.Travel insurance: AAA highly recommends travel insurance to cover unexpected delays or trip interruptions. It is best to consult the expertise of a travel advisor who can guide you on the coverage options available for your specific trip, including if your destination requires visitors to carry travel insurance.

.Clean accommodations: When booking a place to stay, look for accommodations that prioritize cleanliness and have implemented additional housekeeping standards since the start of the pandemic. Hotels that meet AAA standards for cleanliness earn AAA Diamond designations. Find a list of hotels that meet these standards and learn more about the new Inspected Clean program at

.Domestic and international travel guidelines: When traveling within the U.S., fully vaccinated travelers do not need a negative viral test or to self-quarantine. For international travel, all air passengers, regardless of vaccination status or nationality, must show a negative COVID-19 viral test result taken no more than one day before travel into the U.S. Refer to the CDC for more information.

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