AAA said more than 100 million will travel over 50 miles

Published 9:00 am Friday, December 23, 2022

Everyone wants to be home for Christmas, and more than 100 million people will travel more than 50 miles this holiday season, according to AAA’s travel forecast.

AAA estimates that 112.7 million people will journey 50 miles or more away from home from Dec. 23 to Jan. 2, close to pre-pandemic numbers. That’s an increase of 3.6 million people over last year. The year 2022 is expected to be the third busiest year for holiday travel since AAA began tracking in 2000.

“This year, travel time will be extended due to Christmas Day and New Year’s Day falling on Sundays,” says Mary Maguire, AAA Northeast Vice President of Public and Government Affairs. “With hybrid work schedules, we are seeing more people take long weekends to travel because they can work remotely at their destination and be more flexible with the days they depart and return.”

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Nearly 102 million Americans will drive to their holiday destinations. Despite roller-coaster gas prices in 2022, this holiday season will see an additional 2 million drivers compared to 2021. Travel by car this year is on par with 2018 but shy of 2019 when 108 million Americans drove out of town for the holidays, the highest year on record.

Air travel will see a 14% increase over last year, with nearly 7.2 million Americans expected to fly. Flights and airports will be packed this holiday season, reminiscent of pre-pandemic days. Demand for flights has surged despite higher airline ticket prices. AAA expects the number of people taking holiday flights this year will come close to matching 2019 when 7.3 million Americans traveled by air.

“If the distance is not reasonable to drive, more people are taking to the air to maximize the time spent at their destination,” Maguire said.

“Conversely, if the travel distances are reasonable and more than one or two people in the household are taking the trip, it may be more cost-effective to drive rather than buy multiple air tickets, rent a car and spend too much money before the fun even begins.”

Other modes of transportation are also rebounding in a big way. AAA estimates travel by bus, rail and cruise ship will rise to 3.6 million this holiday season, a 23% increase from last year and nearly 94% of 2019’s volume.

INRIX, a provider of transportation analytics and insights, expects the most congested days on the road to be Friday before Christmas, Dec. 27 and 28, and on Monday, Jan. 2, as travelers mix with commuters. In major metros, especially in Los Angeles and New York City, drivers could experience double the typical delays. Nationwide, drivers could see travel times up to 25% longer.

“With pre-pandemic levels of travelers hitting the road this holiday, drivers must be prepared for delays in and around major metro areas, with Tuesday, Dec. 27 expected to be the nation’s worst day to travel,” says Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX.

“Our advice is to avoid traveling during peak commuting hours. If schedules allow, leave bright and early or after the afternoon commute.”

AAA estimates the worst time to travel on each day is Dec. 23 between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Dec. 24 between noon and 6 p.m.; Dec. 26 between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.; and Dec. 27-Dec. 30 between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.