More people will travel for Thanksgiving this year

Marwa Grimes

Whether it’s by plane, train or automobile, more Americans will travel over the Thanksgiving holiday than they have for the past the three years.

AAA forecasts 55.4 million people will trek at least 50 miles between the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after, making it the third-busiest Thanksgiving for travel in two decades.


What You Need To Know

  • AAA expects 55.4 million people to travel between Wednesday, Nov. 22, and Sunday, Nov. 26
  • About 49 million Thanksgiving holiday travelers will drive
  • Sunday, Nov. 26, will be the busiest travel day
  • The worst time to travel over the holiday will be 2 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 22

“For many Americans, Thanksgiving and travel go hand in hand, and this holiday, we expect more people on the roads, skies and seas compared to 2022,” AAA Travel senior vice president Paul Twidale said in a statement. “Travel demand has been strong all year, and AAA’s Thanksgiving forecast reflects that continued desire to get away and spend time with loved ones.”

Driving

Of those who are traveling, almost 90% will drive. Lucky for them, gas prices have fallen just in time. The national average for a gallon of regular gas is currently $3.34, according to AAA. That’s six cents less than a week ago and 16 cents less than a month earlier.

Gas prices for the past two Thanksgivings were significantly higher than they are this year. A gallon of regular cost $3.39 in 2021 and $3.56 last year, according to GasBuddy.com.

The worst time to drive over Thanksgiving is the Wednesday afternoon before the holiday. According to the traffic analytics company INRIX, the roads in some areas will be 80% busier than usual. INRIX suggests traveling in the morning before 11 a.m. or after 6 p.m. to avoid the rush the day before Thanksgiving. The absolute worst time to travel will be 2 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 22.

“The day before Thanksgiving is notoriously one of the most congested days on our roadways,” INRIX transportation analyst Bob Pishue said in a statement. “Travelers should be prepared for long delays, especially in and around major metros.”

INRIX advises drivers to use traffic apps, local notifications from transportation agencies and 511 services for real-time travel updates.

Flying

About 8%, or 4.7 million, Thanksgiving travelers will fly, according to the AAA Thanksgiving Travel Forecast —6.6% more than last year. It’s the highest number of Thanksgiving air travelers since 2005.

The aviation analytics firm Cirium expects Sunday, Nov. 26, to be the busiest travel day of the year, as more than 3 million people take to the skies. Cirium says 22,000 flights will take place that Sunday, while the Transportation Security Administration expects to screen 2.9 million passengers that Sunday — a new record.

Unlike drivers, who are getting a price break at the pump, fliers are paying more. Domestic flights are more expensive this year than in 2022. AAA says the average price for a domestic flight is $681 — a 5% increase compared with last year.

Bus, Train, Cruise

AAA says the number of people traveling by bus or train or taking a cruise is up 11% this year compared with 2022. AAA noted the cruise industry took a hit during the pandemic but “has made a remarkable comeback,” Twidale said. “Thanksgiving cruises are mostly sold out, with many travelers looking to spend the holiday at sea.”

According to AAA, the average price for a domestic cruise this year is $1,507 — a decrease of 12% compared with last year. The price for an international cruise, however, has increased to $2,902 — a 24% increase.

Staying home

According to GasBuddy’s 2023 Thanksgiving Travel Survey, not everyone will hit the road. About 19% of respondents said they will not travel this year because inflation has made it difficult to fit into their budgets.

This week, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported consumer price inflation fell to 3.2% in October, largely due to the falling price of gas, but the coupling of high inflation and high interest rates is affecting some consumers’ ability to travel.

“If you look at the consumer price index numbers, there’s still some very high year-over-year increases in some of the prices that consumers are paying to hit the road,” said GasBuddy.com senior petroleum analyst Patrick De Haan. “If they go to a restaurant, if they go out and spend, if they stay at a hotel, some of those prices have not gone down.”

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