AAA: 102.1 Million Americans to Take Road Trips This Holiday Season

holiday travel

ORLANDO — A record-breaking 112.5 million travelers will take to the nation's highways, roads and rails for the year-end holiday season. This figure represents one-third of Americans and a 4.4-percent increase over last year, according to AAA.

The year-end holiday travel period is defined as Saturday, Dec. 22 through Tuesday, Jan. 1. The 11-day span is one day longer than last year, due to Christmas and New Year's Day falling on Tuesdays this season.

"'Tis the season for holiday travel, and more Americans than ever will journey to spend time with friends and family or choose to take a vacation," said Bryan Shilling, managing director, AAA Travel products and services. "Strong economic growth fueled by robust consumer spending continues to drive strong demand for seasonal travel. With a record-breaking one-third of the country choosing to travel this holiday, roadways and airports are sure to be busy."

By the numbers, AAA forecasts 2018 year-end holiday travel will look like this:

  • Automobiles: The 102.1 million people expected to pack up their cars for road trips is 4.4 percent higher than last year. It is the most since AAA began tracking holiday travel in 2001.
  • Planes: The 6.7 million people who will travel by air this year is the highest level in 15 years and is 4.2 percent more than last year.
  • Trains, buses and cruise ships: Travel across these sectors will increase by 4 percent, with a total 3.7 million passengers.


Based on historical and recent travel trends, INRIX, a global mobility analytics company, expects drivers to experience the greatest amount of congestion before the holiday week — starting on Wednesday, Dec. 19 — as commuters and holiday travelers mix on busy roadways. Drivers in Atlanta, New York, Boston and Houston will see travel times more than three times a normal trip.

"With a record-level number of travelers hitting the road this holiday, drivers must be prepared for delays in major metro areas — with Thursday, Dec. 20 being the nation's worst day to travel," said Trevor Reed, transportation analyst at INRIX. "Our advice is to avoid traveling during peak commuting hours. If schedules allow, leave bright and early, or after the morning commute."

Falling Gas Prices Encourage Travel

While gas has been relatively expensive throughout this year, a recent drop to the cheapest national gas price averages of the year, combined with rising disposable income, is motivating more Americans to hit the road this holiday season. Gas prices averaged $2.46 for the first week of December, which is 2 cents per gallon less than one year ago.

Holiday Travel Booking

An analysis of AAA's flight booking data from the last three years revealed that most holiday air travelers depart two or three days before Christmas and return the day after the holiday.

This holiday season, Saturday, Dec. 22, Sunday, Dec. 23 and Wednesday, Dec. 26 will be the busiest days in the skies and at the airports. Fewer holiday travelers choose to fly on Christmas Eve (Monday, Dec. 24) and Christmas Day (Tuesday, Dec. 25), which are the lightest travel days around the Christmas holiday, according to AAA.

Most travelers booked their Christmas flights between Oct. 26 and Nov. 27, paying an average ticket price of $561 roundtrip. Last-minute planners who book between Dec. 12 and 18 can expect to pay the lowest average airfares, at $488.

Travel Destinations

Warm-weather destinations are top draws in the winter months, occupying nine of the top 10 spots on the list of most popular holiday destinations, based on AAA's online and travel agency air and tour bookings.

The major cruise ports of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Miami have both gained in popularity compared with last year, on the heels of a strong year for cruise sales. Meanwhile, New York, the only cold-weather destination to make the top 10, can also expect a growing influx of travelers this holiday season.

The top 10 travel destinations this holiday season are:

  1. Orlando, Fla.
  2. Cancun, Mexico
  3. Anaheim, Calif. (Disneyland)
  4. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
  5. Montego Bay, Jamaica
  6. Honolulu
  7. New York
  8. Kahului, Hawaii (Maui)
  9. Fort Lauderdale
  10. Miami