Home For The Holidays: What To Know Before You Travel For The Holidays

November 18, 2021

Since many Floridians were unable to travel last year, it's unlikely that higher gas prices will keep them from hitting the holiday road

While rising Vaccination rates against COVID-19 have increased travelers’ comfort levels, most Americans are still opting to stay home this holiday season but holiday travel levels have increased, according to a new national survey commissioned by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) conducted by Morning Consult.

The survey found that 29% of Americans are likely to travel for Thanksgiving and 33% are likely to travel for Christmas—an increase from 21% and 24%, respectively, compared to 2020. Those who do plan to travel over the holidays expect to drive, but rising gas prices may dampen those plans.

“While vaccines have helped travelers feel more comfortable, rising gas prices and continued concerns about the Pandemic are making many Americans hesitant to travel during the holidays. Despite a slight expected uptick in holiday travel this year, hotels will continue to face economic fallout from the Pandemic, underscoring the need for targeted federal relief, such as the Save Hotel Jobs Act, to support the industry and its workforce until travel fully returns,” said American Hotel & Lodging Association President and CEO Chip Rogers.

Despite being among the hardest hit, hotels are the only segment of the hospitality and leisure industry yet to receive direct Pandemic relief from Congress. That is why AHLA and UNITE HERE, the largest hospitality workers’ union in North America, joined forces to call on Congress to pass the bipartisan Save Hotel Jobs Act to provide critical support to hotels and their workers during this crucial period.

The surveys key findings include the following:
• Just one in three Americans plans to travel for Christmas (33% likely to travel, 59% unlikely) and even fewer plan to travel for Thanksgiving (29% likely, 61% unlikely)

• 68% of Thanksgiving travelers plan to stay with family or friends, while 22% plan to stay in a hotel

• 66% of Christmas travelers plan to stay with family or friends, while 23% plan to stay in a hotel

• 52% of Americans say they plan to take fewer trips and 53% plan to take shorter trips due to rising gas prices

• Leisure travelers are making several adjustments to their travel plans based on the current state of the Pandemic, including only traveling within driving distance (58%), taking fewer trips (48%) and taking shorter trips (46%)

• Among parents with children under the age of 12, 41% say the availability of Vaccines for kids ages 5-11 will make them more likely to travel

• 68% of Thanksgiving travelers and 64% of Christmas travelers plan to drive, compared to 11% and 14%, respectively, who plan to fly

AAA Predicts Thanksgiving Travel to Rebound Near Pre-Pandemic Levels
AAA forecasts a strong rebound in holiday travelers this Thanksgiving. The Auto Club Group predicts 53.4 million Americans will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, up 13% from 2020. This brings travel volumes within 5% of Pre-Pandemic levels from the 2019 holiday.

The gap is closing even faster in Florida, as total travel figures are only 2% below Pre-Pandemic levels. AAA predicts nearly 2.9 million Floridians will travel for Thanksgiving, a 13% rebound from the total number of travelers during the 2020 holiday.

“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 – The Auto Club Group. “Now that U.S. borders are open, Vaccinations are readily available, 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.”

Busier Roads and Airports
With 6.4 million more Americans traveling this Thanksgiving (321,000 more Floridians), 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 for 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 3 hours.”

Travel Pricing
Air—Even with air travel seeing a boost this year, AAA finds that 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. Those wanting to book last minute travel will find the best fares about two weeks before Thanksgiving, but keep in mind availability may be limited.

Hotels—Mid-range hotel rates have increased about 39%, with average nightly rates ranging between $137 and $172 for AAA Approved Hotels.

Car Rentals—Daily car rental rates have increased 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 semiconductor chip shortage impacting automakers. As the number of travelers continues to grow, it’s important to reserve rental cars as early as possible. Consult AAA.com/Travel for options and special benefits.

Gas Prices—Gas prices surged in October and are likely to remain elevated through the holiday season. The average price for gasoline in Florida was $3.28 per gallon on Monday, November 8th. Thanksgiving gas prices haven’t been that high since 2013. The state average was $2.03 per gallon during last year’s holiday (November 26) and $2.44 on Thanksgiving Day in 2019 (November 28). View daily gas price averages at: www.GasPrices.AAA.com

“Since many Floridians were unable to travel last year, it's unlikely that higher gas prices will keep them from hitting the holiday road in 2021,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman, AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Gas prices do not typically make the difference of whether Floridians will or will not travel. However, they could impact how far some are willing to drive, while others may need to reallocate more of their travel budget to gasoline, spend less on meals, shopping and dining out.”

This year’s forecast marks the highest single-year increase in Thanksgiving travelers since 2005, bringing travel volumes close to Pre-Pandemic levels in 2019. Despite gasoline costing over a dollar more per gallon than this time last year, 90% of people plan to travel by car as their preferred mode of transportation. Although the car is still the most popular choice for travelers, a greater share will opt to travel by air and other modes such as bus, train or cruise this year. Whether you plan to do so by car or plane, it’s important to know how to navigate the new travel landscape to avoid unnecessary stress and challenges on the way to your Thanksgiving destination.