Highways will look a little busier than usual in the coming weeks, with more than 115.6 million Americans expected to travel throughout the holidays.
From Sunday, Dec. 21, through Wednesday, Jan. 1, AAA predicts an increase of 3.9% over last year’s travels, or 4.3 million more people packing up their sleighs for a holiday getaway. More than 104 million of those holiday travelers will drive to their destinations and, INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, expects delays to be the worst Thursday, Dec. 26, with afternoon delays reaching nearly double congestion-free drive times in major U.S. cities.
“With unemployment at historically low levels, millions of Americans will put a bow on 2019 with a trip to see family and friends,” Jim Lehman, president of AAA East Central, said. “It’s great to see so many people decide to take this opportunity to make new holiday memories that will last them a lifetime.”
For the 104.8 million Americans traveling by automobile, AAA predicts only marginal delays throughout the holiday week. Nationally, drivers could experience double the travel times Thursday and Friday afternoon, although New York City and Washington, D.C. could see triple the delays.
Gas prices steadily declined in November, paving the way for even lower prices for the year-end holidays. AAA expects most motorists to see gas prices drop before the new year but will likely be slightly more expensive than last December’s national gas price average of $2.37.
While driving this holiday season is the most popular option for travel, AAA’s flight booking data revealed that most travelers flying this holiday season will depart two to four days before the Christmas holiday, Dec. 21-23, with the 22nd being the single busiest air travel day of the holiday week. These travelers, on average, pay ticket prices between $593 and $639.
Christmas Eve is the best day to travel, with the lowest average price per ticket ($527) and the fewest crowds of the holiday week. Many travelers opt to fly after the Christmas holiday leading up to new year’s, and they pay a premium to do so. Dec. 26 has the highest average ticket price of the week at $692.
Increased traffic can make the holidays even more stressful. With that in mind, AAA encourages drivers to maintain a cool head and focus on reaching their destination safely throughout the holiday season.