Thanksgiving travel expected to rebound

This Thanksgiving is expected to see a 13% increase in travelers compared to 2020.

A strong rebound in holiday travel is expected this Thanksgiving. The Auto Club Group predicts that 53.4 million Americans will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, up 13% from 2020. This brings travel volumes within 5% of pre-pandemic levels for the 2019 holiday.

The West North Central census region, which includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and four other states, will see the greatest share of its population traveling. Nearly one in every five people (19.6%) from the region are expected to travel during the holiday period. Nationally, 16.2% of the population is expected to travel.

“It’s beginning to look more like a normal holiday travel season, compared to what we saw last year,” said Debbie Haas, vice president of travel for AAA. “Now that U.S. borders are open, vaccinations are readily available and new health and safety guidelines are in place, travel is once again high on the list for Americans who are ready to reunite with their loved ones for the holidays.”


Busy roads, airports

With 6.4 million more Americans traveling this Thanksgiving — the highest single-year increase since 2005 — people should prepare for the roads and airports to be noticeably more crowded than last year’s holiday. AAA predicts road travel to increase by 8%. Yet the most notable improvement this year’s holiday is domestic air travel, which has almost completely recovered from its dramatic drop-off during the pandemic and is up 80% from last year.

“The re-opening of the U.S. borders to international travelers means airports will be even busier than we’ve recently seen, so travelers must plan for longer lines and extra time for TSA checks,” Haas continued. “With flight delays and cancellations becoming a problem recently, air travelers are encouraged to consider travel insurance. If your flight is cancelled, there are various policies that would help offset unexpected expenses like a hotel, transportation and food. You may also receive compensation for lost luggage or if your flight is delayed for as little as three hours.” 


Travel expenses

Even with air travel seeing a boost this year, AAA finds the average lowest airfare is 27.3% less than last year, coming in at $132. Tuesday and Wednesday are still the most expensive and heaviest travel days, while Monday and Thursday are generally the lightest and least expensive. 

Mid-range hotel rates have increased by about 39%, with average nightly rates ranging between $137 and $172.

Daily car rental rates have increased by 4% compared to last Thanksgiving, at $98. Over the summer, consumers experienced high costs and limited availability of rental cars in some markets due to the semi-conductor chip shortage, which impacted automakers. As the number of travelers continues to grow, it’s important to reserve rental cars as early as possible.  

Gas prices surged in October and are likely to remain elevated through the holiday season. The average price for gasoline in Minnesota is currently $3.18 per gallon and $3.19 per gallon in Iowa. Thanksgiving gas prices haven’t been that high since 2013. The state average was $1.95 per gallon in Minnesota and $1.98 during last year’s holiday (Nov. 26), which was the lowest it had been since 2008. In 2019, on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 28), the price per gallon was $2.46 in Minnesota. 

“After a rough travel year in 2020, it appears higher gas prices are not deterring people from returning to the road for Thanksgiving,” said Meredith Mitts, public affairs specialist for AAA Minnesota-Iowa. “As it appears these high gas prices will hang around through the holidays, it’s likely travelers will need to budget more for gasoline and less on things like shopping, lodging and dining out.”


Contributed by AAA

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