AAA Predicts the Highest Number of Air Travelers for Thanksgiving Weekend Since 2005


Thanksgiving may come with a heaping side of travel headaches this year. In its annual travel forecast, the American Automobile Association (AAA) predicts that 55.4 million people—2.3 percent more than last year—will venture more than 50 miles from home this year. (The forecast tracks trends during the five-day period from the Wednesday before the holiday through the Sunday after.) To put this into perspective, it marks the third busiest year since the association started tracking data in 2000.

“Despite consumer confidence waning in recent months, travel has not slowed,” Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel tells Condé Nast Traveler. She also shared some insight in a press release from the company: “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."

Airports Will Be the Busiest Since 2005

Air travel continues to rise, with 4.7 million Americans predicted to take to the skies—that’s 6.6 percent more than last year and the highest since 2005.

“Thanksgiving is a very condensed holiday and travelers prefer to spend more time with their families than being on the road,” Twidale says. “An 8- to 12-hour car journey can be flown in about one to 1.5 hours, which means more time to enjoy holiday plans.”

The growth comes despite higher price tags with domestic flights spiking 5 percent from last year, resulting in an average cost of $681. Those looking to escape the country might save a bit since international flights are down 5.7 percent from 2022‚ yet the costs remain high with an average of $1,231.

While the Wednesday before Thanksgiving historically has been one of the busiest air travel days of the year, the Tuesday prior is also catching up, with prices matching the demand.

"Now with hybrid schedules and the ability to work remotely, more people are taking advantage of the jumpstart, so Tuesday is busier,” she says, pointing out that some school districts have now eliminated Wednesday classes, opening up the option for families to leave Tuesday after school to build in a buffer. “No one wants to get delayed the day before Thanksgiving and run the risk of missing the turkey and festivities.”

Since this time of year can also call for inclement weather, Twidale suggests getting ahead of the issues since packed flights will mean limited changes to rebook. “It is also advisable to pre-book parking reservations for the airport and purchase travel insurance for trip interruption and to protect your investment,” she adds.

49 Million People Will Travel By Road

The majority of Thanksgiving travelers will head to their destinations by car, with AAA predicting 49.1 million on the road—a 1.7 percent spike from last year. Twidale notes how essential it is to travel off-peak, with mornings before 10 a.m. and evenings after 7 p.m. being the sweet spots for most cities and on most days.

AAA partnered with transportation data and insights provider INRIX to hone in on peak congestion time, finding that average time on the roads could increase as much as 80 percent on the Wednesday before the holiday.

Let's dig into the specifics: On November 22, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. will see the most crowded roadways, while the window shifts to 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on November 23 and noon to 4 p.m. on November 24. Both November 25 and 26 will be the most congested from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. To best strategize smooth drives, experts suggest departing before 11 a.m. on November 22, before 10 a.m. or after 5 p.m. on November 23, before 11 a.m. or after 7 p.m. on November 24, or before noon on November 25.

It's also important to consider your route. The greatest delays are predicted to be between Los Angeles and Bakersfield on Interstate 5 North at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday—which will take nearly three hours (88 percent longer than normal). In addition, both the drives between Seattle and Bellingham on Interstate 5 North and from Washington D.C. to Baltimore on the Parkway will take 71 percent more time, with the Washington state route peaking Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. at 2 hours and 39 minutes. The capital area route will be busiest on Wednesday at 2 p.m., averaging a drive time of an hour and 13 minutes.

But the good news is that road-trippers will likely spend less at the pump since gas prices have been coming down from their mid-August peak of $3.87 a gallon to $3.58.

Buses, Trains, and Cruise Ship Travel are Also Peaking

For Twidale, the most surprising finding was that alternative modes of transportation—in particular buses, trains, and cruise ships—are also spiking. This category has risen 11 percent since last year, with 1.5 million Americans opting to travel via these methods, surpassing the decades-long average from 2013 to 2022 by nearly 20 percent.

“Many families are taking advantage of intergenerational travel, and cruises are a great option,” she says in response to many Thanksgiving cruises selling out.

It also doesn’t hurt that the average price of a domestic cruise has dipped 12 percent over last year, averaging $1,507. (International cruises, on the other hand, have risen a whopping 24 percent since last year, marking a $2,902 average.)

Trending Thanksgiving Destinations

With so many people venturing away from home, there is one throughline through the trending destinations: fun in the sun.

Top domestic locations include four Florida cities—Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and Tampa—as well as other warm weather getaways in Anaheim, California (home to Disneyland Resort), Las Vegas, Honolulu, Maui, and San Diego. The one outlier is New York City, of course notable for its seasonal offerings, especially the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Internationally, warm weather is also a hot ticket, with Cancun; Mexico City; Punta Cana; Montego Bay, Jamaica; Nassau, Bahamas; Bali; and Papua New Guinea. Big European cities—Rome, London, and Paris—also join the list, as well as perhaps a surprising trending destination, Bahrain, as the usually scorching heat starts to dip to more pleasant temperatures.

Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler