COLUMBUS — AAA expects year-end holiday travel numbers to break records for the eighth year in a row (seventh year in Ohio), with 115.6 million Americans (4.7 million Ohioans) traveling at least 50 miles from home between Dec. 21 and Jan. 1.
The projected travel volume is an increase of 3.9 percent nationally (4.2 percent in Ohio), and marks the 11th consecutive year of year-end holiday travel growth.
Economic Factors Continue To Drive Growth
“Holiday cheer is at an all-time high this year, with unemployment at historically low levels and noted improvements in both disposable income and household net worth,” said Paula Twidale, vice president, AAA Travel. “Travelers should be getting used to crowded highways and airports.”
This year’s holiday period is also one day longer than last year, spanning 12 days instead of 11. While the year-end holiday travel period always covers two weekends, the extra day offers more options to travelers.
Modes of Transportation
Automobiles: About 91 percent of holiday travelers will drive to their destinations. With a record number of drivers hitting the roads during the 12-day holiday period, AAA expects to assist more than 853,000 motorists (nearly 32,000 in Ohio) with tows, dead batteries, flat tires, lockouts and more.
Planes: Air travel will see the biggest increase in travel volume during the year-end holidays, with an increase of 4.6 percent nationally (4.9 percent in Ohio). The nearly 7 million Americans (258,000 Ohioans) who will travel by air this year mark the highest holiday air travel volume since 2003.
Busiest Travel Times
Due to the length of the holiday travel period, drivers can expect only marginal delays throughout the holiday week. According to INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, the busiest days on the nation’s roads will be Thursday, Dec. 26 and Friday, Dec. 27 during the afternoon and evening. During these times, drivers in major metro areas could experience double the normal travel times.
An analysis of AAA’s flight booking data from the last three years shows most holiday air travelers depart two to four days before Christmas. Dec. 22 is the busiest air travel day, while Christmas Eve is the lightest day with the lowest ticket prices. Those that fly between Christmas and New Year’s will pay a premium, with Dec. 26 being the most expensive day to fly.
Navigating Holiday Travel
Traveling during the holidays can be stressful. AAA encourages drivers to maintain a cool head, and focus on reaching their destination safely. Holiday travelers can avoid road rage by following this advice:
- Do Not Offend: Never cause another driver to change their speed or direction. That means not forcing another driver to use their brakes, or turn the steering wheel in response to something you have done.
- Be Tolerant and Forgiving: The other driver may just be having a really bad day. Assume that it is not personal.
- Do Not Respond: Avoid eye contact, don’t make gestures, maintain space around your vehicle and contact 9-1-1 if needed.
Holiday Travel Costs
The national gas price average steadily declined in November, paving the way for even cheaper prices for the year-end holidays. AAA expects motorists to see gas prices drop before the New Year, but will likely be slightly more expensive than last December’s average of $2.37.
As an added bonus for holiday road trippers, AAA members who register in the Fuel Rewards at Shell program through Dec. 31, 2019 can receive an additional 25 cents per gallon discount on their first fill up after registering as a new Fuel Rewards member, on top of the everyday 5-cent discount (30 cents total).
Those renting a car will need to budget a bit more this holiday. According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, the daily average rental rate this holiday period will increase 11% to $84 – the highest price in 10 years. AAA Three Diamond rated hotel prices have increased 1% to $153 a night, while AAA Two Diamond rated hotels are 2% less than last year at $119 a night.
By Kimberly Schwind, Special to the Inquirer