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115 million Americans set for second-highest holiday travel since 2000

Expecting a record number of travelers this season, experts say to plan ahead, take precautions and have patience due to busy roads and airports.
Posted at 3:45 PM, Dec 11, 2023

More Americans are gearing up to jet off or hit the road this Christmas and New Year's, marking the second-highest year-end holiday travel forecast since 2000.

Over 115 million Americans, a 2.2% boost from last year, are gearing up to travel 50 miles or more from home during the 10-day year-end holiday season, according to a new prediction report by AAA.

“This year-end holiday forecast, with an additional 2.5 million travelers compared to last year, mirrors what AAA Travel has been observing throughout 2023,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, in a press release. “More Americans are investing in travel, despite the cost, to make memories with loved ones and experience new places."

According to AAA experts, almost 104 million people are expected to drive to their destinations, up 1.8% from 2022 and the second highest on record, behind only 2019's 108 million drivers.

Meanwhile, airports are set to break records this Christmas and New Year's, with AAA projecting a whopping 7.5 million air travelers, surpassing the 2019 record of 7.3 million passengers.

“If you're heading on the road or flying this holiday season, Thursday and Friday heading into the Christmas holiday are going to be some of the busiest days to travel,” said Lindsay Schwimer, the consumer travel expert at Hopper, a travel app.

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AAA also predicts that over 4 million Americans will opt for alternative transportation like buses, trains, and cruises during Christmas and New Year's, which will also surpass the 2019 figure of 3.89 million.

With a record number of travelers expected this season, experts advise planning ahead, taking precautions, and embracing patience as roads and airports are anticipated to be very busy.

“Nationwide, drivers could see travel times up to 20% longer this holiday season. In major metros, especially in Denver, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C., drivers could experience nearly double the typical delays,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX in the press release. “Avoid peak commuting hours and use traffic apps, local DOT notifications, and 511 services to minimize holiday travel traffic frustrations.” 

So how can you make sure you get to your destination safe and on time?

First, leave early whether you drive or fly.

 “Leaving early in the morning is always your best bet. In fact, flights are usually double the chances of being delayed after 9 a.m.,” Schwimer said.

AAA says the best times to hit the road are before lunchtime and after 7 p.m. 

If you are heading to the airport, sign up for alerts and make sure you have your airline's app.

“Always build in a buffer day when you’re planning for the holidays so you can give yourself a bit of wiggle room to get to your destination on time," Schwimer said.

She said the airports that are expected to be the busiest are Denver International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

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