AAA: ‘Tis the Season for Record Travel

One third of population will travel for the holidays

PORTLAND, Ore. – AAA projects more than 112.5 million Americans (33 percent of the population) will travel for the Christmas and New Year holidays. This is the most on record and a 4.4 percent increase compared to last year. In Oregon, roughly 1.37 million will travel. The year-end holiday travel period is defined as Saturday, December 22 through Tuesday, January 1, 2019.

“This is the seventh year in a row to set a new record for holiday travel volume, and the 10th consecutive year of growth in travel for the year-end holidays. This year’s increase is fueled by steady economic growth and strong consumer confidence, as well as falling gas prices,” says Marie Dodds, public affairs director for AAA Oregon/Idaho.

2018 Holiday Travel Projections

More Americans will drive this holiday season than ever before

The vast majority of travelers—91 percent or 102.1 million people—will take a holiday road trip, an increase of 4.4 percent over last year. In Oregon, about 1.2 million will drive.

Gas prices have been steadily dropping in the last month. The current national average is $2.37 while the Oregon average is $3.01. Prices are still relatively low compared to 2010 through 2013 when gas prices averaged more than $3 a gallon.

Heaviest traffic expected Thursday

Drivers will experience the greatest amount of congestion before the holiday week on Wednesday, Dec. 19, Thursday, Dec. 20 and Friday, Dec. 21 as commuters leave work early and mix with holiday travelers.

Some trips could take two to four times longer than normal during these times. The most congested time is expected to be Thursday between about 3 and 7 p.m.

2018 Holiday Travel Projections

You can avoid the biggest bottlenecks if you can avoid driving during these times. Try leaving in the early morning hours or right after the morning commute,” says Dodds. “Whenever you travel, expect delays and lots of company because of the record number of travelers this year. Give yourself plenty of extra time to get to your destination.”

Greatest number of air travelers in 15 years

Air travel is expected to increase by 4.2 percent compared to last year, with 6.7 million Americans including about 84,000 Oregonians flying to their holiday destinations. This is the seventh consecutive year of growth in the number of air travelers.

AAA’s flight booking data from the last three years reveals that most holiday air travelers depart two or three days before Christmas and return the day after the holiday. This year, Saturday, December 22, Sunday, December 23 and Wednesday, December 26 will be the busiest days in the skies and at the airports. The lightest travel days are Christmas Eve (Monday, December 24) and Christmas Day (Tuesday, December 25).

2018 Holiday Travel Projections

Most travelers booked their Christmas flights between October 26 and November 27, paying an average ticket price of $561 roundtrip. Last-minute planners who booked between December 12 and 18 this year can expect to pay the lowest average airfares, at $488. However, those travelers encounter limited availability and their preferred flights may already be sold out.

Travel by other modes including Trains, Buses, Rails and Cruise Ships will increase by 4 percent to 3.7 million.

Air travel tips

Airports are busy and security lines may be longer than usual around the holidays. Travelers should plan to arrive at the airport at least two hours prior to domestic flights and three hours before international flights. During peak travel times, contact your airline for guidance, as it may be necessary to arrive even earlier.

This time of year travelers need to also be aware of potential weather delays. Make sure to check flight status regularly before traveling to the airport. Some airlines will waive cancellation or change fees when bad weather hits.

You may want to To expedite travel, AAA recommends enrolling in programs such as TSA PreCheck and Global Entry.

AAA recommends enrolling in pre-screening programs such as TSA PreCheck and Global Entry which can make the screening process easier. Visit TSA.gov for the latest info on getting through security and items you can carry on your flights. Air travelers are often surprised when holiday gifts such as jams, honey and other food items are confiscated—they are considered liquids. It’s also best not to wrap gifts as inspectors may need to unwrap them at the security check point. Instead, pack gift bags and tissue paper so you can easily wrap gifts when you arrive at your destination.

Hotel rates mixed, rental cars climb to 10-year high

According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, travelers will also pay a bit more at AAA Two Diamond hotels, where prices are 1 percent more than last year, or $122 per night. Conversely, the average rate for AAA Three Diamond hotels has fallen 3 percent to an average nightly cost of $152.

Holiday road trippers should budget more for a rental car this year, as daily rates have increased 3 percent over last year. At $76, the daily average car rental rate this holiday season is the most expensive in 10 years.

Top destinations:

This year’s most popular destinations for the year-end holidays based on AAA bookings at AAA Oregon/Idaho include many popular western and Hawaiian cities, as well as perennial family-friendly favorites such as Disneyland and NYC: 

  1. Anaheim, California
  2. Maui
  3. Honolulu, Hawaii
  4. Las Vegas, Nevada
  5. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
  6. Phoenix/Scottsdale, AZ
  7. Orlando, Florida
  8. San Diego, CA
  9. New York, New York
  10. Cancun, Mexico

 Other top spots include central Oregon, the Oregon coast, Seattle, San Francisco/Bay area and British Columbia, Canada.

#AAAToTheRescue this holiday season: dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts.

AAA expects to respond to more than 960,000 drivers nationally and about 13,440 in Oregon and Idaho over the holiday travel period. The top three issues are dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts.

Before heading out on a road trip, AAA recommends you check the condition of your battery and tires and pack an emergency kit. AAA members can schedule a time for a AAA battery technician to come to your vehicle and test your battery, starter and alternator. We’ll even deliver a new battery, install it and take away your old one.

Have your vehicle inspected by a trusted repair shop, such as one of the nearly 7,000 AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities across North America. Oil changes, fluid level checks, battery tests and tire inspections go a long way toward reducing the chances of a breakdown.

Download the AAA Mobile app, visit AAA.com or call 1-800-AAA-HELP to request roadside assistance.

Be prepared for winter driving conditions:

Find tips at AAA.com/winterprep. AAA recommends checking windshield wipers and inspecting tires to ensure safe drivability before setting out. Pack an emergency kit containing a snow shovel, flashlight, ice scraper, jumper cables, warning devices and extra warm clothing for everyone riding in the vehicle. When driving, slow down and do not tailgate. Increase following distances to a minimum of five to six seconds to allow additional braking room.

Equip your car with the right traction tires, or carry chains and know how to put them on. Make sure you, your passengers and your car are ready for winter driving conditions.

Download the AAA Mobile app before a holiday getaway

Before setting out on a holiday trip, travelers should download the free AAA Mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android. The app can help map a route, find lowest gas prices, access exclusive member discounts, make travel arrangements, request AAA roadside assistance, find AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities and more. Learn more at AAA.com/mobile.

With the AAA Mobile app, travelers can also find more than 59,000 AAA Approved and Diamond Rated hotels and restaurants. AAA’s is the only rating system that uses full-time, professionally trained evaluators to inspect each property on an annual basis. Every AAA Approved establishment offers the assurance of acceptable cleanliness, comfort and hospitality, and ratings of One to Five Diamonds help travelers find the right match for amenities and services.

 About the travel forecast

AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Markit. The London-based business information provider teamed with AAA in 2009 to jointly analyze travel trends during major holidays. AAA has been reporting on holiday travel trends for more than two decades. The complete AAA/IHS 2018 year-end holiday travel forecast can be found here.

 AAA news releases, high resolution images, broadcast-quality video, fact sheets and podcasts are available on the AAA NewsRoom at NewsRoom.AAA.com.

For more information go to www.AAA.com. Get the latest fuel prices at AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge at www.fuelgaugereport.com/. AAA Oregon/Idaho provides more than 800,000 members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services, and is an affiliate of AAA National, serving more than 58 million motorists in North America.