Thanksgiving Travel Forecast Ticks Up From 2022

This year is expected to be the third-highest for holiday travel since 2000.
Angela Hanson
Senior Editor
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Drivers in traffic

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Approximately 55.4 million travelers will head 50 miles or more from home during this year's Thanksgiving holiday travel period, AAA projected, marking an increase of 2.3 percent over last year.

This makes 2023 the third-highest Thanksgiving since AAA began tracking holiday travel in 2000. The top two years were 2005 and 2019, respectively.

"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," said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel. "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."

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The majority of Thanksgiving travelers will drive to their destinations. Approximately 49.1 million will get behind the wheel, up 1.7 percent compared to Thanksgiving 2022, according to AAA.

Drivers may be paying less for gas than last Thanksgiving, when the national average was $3.58 per gallon. This year, the national average peaked in mid-August at $3.87 and has been declining since, despite global tensions causing ripples throughout the oil market.

Air travelers are expected to increase 6.6 percent from last year to 4.7 million people, marking the highest number of Thanksgiving air travelers since 2005. The Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving are the busiest air travel days ahead of the holiday as well as the most expensive. While Sunday is typically the busiest day for return travel, the Monday after Thanksgiving is also a popular day to fly back.

The number of people traveling by cruise, bus and train is up nearly 11 percent year over year. AAA predicted that 1.55 million travelers will head out of town using these other modes of transportation, which have rebounded since taking a significant hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The cruise industry, in particular, has made a remarkable comeback," Twidale said. "Thanksgiving cruises are mostly sold out, with many travelers looking to spend the holiday at sea."

Wednesday, Nov. 22, is expected to be the busiest day on the roads during the Thanksgiving holiday travel period, according to INRIX, a provider of transportation data and insights. Average travel times could be as high as 80 percent above normal in some metro areas. INRIX recommends leaving in the morning or after 6 p.m. to avoid the heaviest holiday congestion.

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"The day before Thanksgiving is notoriously one of the most congested days on our roadways. Travelers should be prepared for long delays, especially in and around major metros," said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX. "Knowing when and where congestion will build can help minimize holiday traffic frustrations. We advise drivers to use traffic apps, local DOT notifications, and 511 services for real-time updates."