HOUSTONTexas  (KIAH)  Texas residents who had to cancel getaways and get-togethers last year because of the pandemic are making up for lost time this holiday season. More than 8.8 million Texans, an increase of 32% from last year and -8% fewer than 2019, will travel 50 miles or more away from home this year-end holiday season between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2.

The majority of people, around 8.3 million, will drive to their destinations – an increase of 27% from 2020 and -7% fewer than 2019. There will be big jumps in the number of people flying, totaling approximately 334,000 domestic, leisure travelers around the Lone Star State– which is a 177% jump from 2020 – and around -20% fewer than 2019 levels. AAA also expects more people will travel by buses, trains and take a cruise – totaling around 171,000 Texans, which represents a 190% increase from last year and a -33% decrease from 2019.

On a national scale, more than 109 million people — an almost 34% increase from 2020 — will hit the road, board airplanes or take other transportation out of town for leisure. That dramatic bounce-back — 27.7 million more people traveling — will bring this year’s numbers to 92% of 2019 levels. Airlines will see a 184% increase from last year.

“For those planning to travel this holiday season, we strongly recommend working with a travel advisor,” said AAA Texas vice president and general manager, Kent Livesay. “These travel professionals are experts in their field and can give guidance on the best travel options, cancellation policies, what to expect on your trip, and the travel insurance needed to protect your travel investment before and during your vacation.”

Protect yourself — and your trip  

AAA urges anyone considering gathering or traveling for the holidays to consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance. It’s essential to know requirements and recommendations based on your vaccination status, where you’re traveling from and your destination.

A trusted travel advisor can provide advice, serving as an advocate before, during and after a trip. Their extensive knowledge and expertise allow them to help travelers with questions related to travel insurance options, what destinations and attractions are open both domestically and internationally, destination-specific testing and vaccination requirements, what to do if last-minute changes to a trip are needed and much more.

AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map helps travelers understand closures, recommendations and requirements when traveling in the U.S. In addition, the CDC has an interactive map with recommendations and information about restrictions for international travel.

Masks are still required for everyone on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of U.S. public transportation and within transportation hubs such as airports and stations. The CDC also recommends everyone wear a mask indoors in public places in an area of substantial or high transmission.

Other things to consider:

  • Travel insurance — AAA highly recommends travel insurance to cover unexpected delays or trip interruptions. It is best to consult the expertise of a travel advisor who can guide you on the coverage options available for your specific trip, including if your destination requires visitors to carry travel insurance.
  • Clean accommodations — When booking a place to stay, look for accommodations that prioritize cleanliness and have implemented additional housekeeping standards since the start of the pandemic. Hotels that meet AAA standards for cleanliness earn AAA Diamond designations. Earlier this year, as part of the Diamond program, AAA enhanced its housekeeping evaluation, and inspections now include objective, scientific validation of the cleanliness of common surfaces throughout hotels. Hotels that have been inspected since that new testing started and now meet these new standards are recognized as Inspected Clean. A current list of AAA Diamond hotels, including those recognized as Inspected Clean, can be found here.
  • Domestic and international travel guidelines — When traveling within the U.S., fully vaccinated travelers do not need a negative viral test or to self-quarantine. For international travel, all air passengers, regardless of vaccination status or nationality, must show a negative COVID-19 viral test result taken no more than one day before travel into the U.S. Refer to the CDC for more information.

More than 100 million on the roads and 6 million in the skies

Road trips remain the top mode of travel during the holidays, with over 100 million Americans planning to head to their destinations in cars despite gas costing $1.25 per gallon more than a year ago. More than 6 million people are expected to travel by air, while 3 million people are booking buses, trains and cruises.

Theme parks, beaches and Vegas are popular destinations

AAA booking data through October shows that domestically, theme-park-heavy destinations like Orlando, Florida, and Anaheim, California, top the list of popular travel spots. Las Vegas, New York City and several other Florida cities also rank high.

Higher prices this holiday season

With so many planning to travel, AAA suggests booking flights, car rentals, accommodations and other activities as early as possible.

Air — A recent analysis of AAA’s flight booking data revealed that ticket prices for Christmas week are up 5% from last year, with the average lowest round-trip fare of $154 for major U.S. destinations. For those flying around New Year’s, prices are up considerably more – 27% with the average lowest fare at $182. Those wanting to book last-minute travel will find the best fares about two weeks before their travel date but keep in mind availability may be limited.

Hotels — Mid-range hotel rates have increased 36% for AAA Approved hotels for Christmas travel, with an average nightly rate of $320. For New Year’s Eve, the average nightly rate is $267.

Car Rentals — For car rentals, the average rate has increased 20% for Christmas travel, with the average lowest daily rate of $130. It has increased 65% for New Year’s, for an average lowest daily rate of $103. Rental car companies have been re-building their inventory following a shortage over the summer, but with the increased demand expected around this time of the year, it’s important to book as early as possible.

Plan ahead for road trips

Texans planning to drive over the holidays need to be prepared for slowdowns and breakdowns. AAA Texas expects to respond to more than 38,300 calls for help across The Lonestar State during the holiday period. Vehicles that have been driven less during the pandemic should get an inspection to check key components like the battery, fuel system, tires, brakes and fluid levels to avoid an unnecessary breakdown. It’s important to do this as early as possible in case there is an issue that needs to be fixed. Also, AAA Texas reminds drivers ‘Don’t Drive Intoxicated. Don’t Drive Intexticated.’ this holiday season, and to especially pay attention to those working alongside the road. Texas has a move over or slow down law in place that says a driver must move over one lane or slowdown 20 mph below the posted speed limit when approaching an incident at the side of the road where emergency and roadside crews are working, including tow trucks. When it comes to preventing impaired driving, drivers should plan ahead to avoid driving under the influence such as have a designated driver, have a ride share app or cab company number stored in their phone. According to the Texas Department of Transportation – 80 people were killed during the Year-end holiday period last year.

Rushing home for the holidays

INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts only marginal delays overall throughout the holiday week. However, major metro areas across the U.S. could see more than double the delays versus typical drive times, with drivers in New York City likely to experience more than three times the delays.

Forecasted numbers may change

AAA notes that the actual number of travelers could fluctuate as we approach the holidays. Some people may decide to stay home if there is an increase in reported COVID-19 cases or because of concerns about the omicron variant, while others may note the progress in vaccinations and make last-minute decisions to travel. AAA recommends working with a travel advisor who can help you plan a vacation that meets your needs and comfort level this holiday season.

Forecast Methodology

In cooperation with AAA, IHS Markit—a world leader in critical information, analytics and expertise—developed a unique methodology to forecast actual domestic travel volumes. The economic variables used to forecast travel for the current holiday are leveraged from IHS Markit’s proprietary databases. These data include macroeconomic drivers such as employment, output, household net worth, asset prices including stock indices, interest rates, housing market indicators, and variables related to travel and tourism, including prices of gasoline, airline travel and hotel stays.

Historical travel volume estimates come from DK SHIFFLET’s TRAVEL PERFORMANCE/Monitorsm. The PERFORMANCE/Monitorsm is a comprehensive study measuring the travel behavior of U.S. residents. DK SHIFFLET contacts over 50,000 U.S. households each month to obtain detailed travel data, resulting in the unique ability to estimate visitor volume and spending, identify trends, and forecast U.S. travel behavior. 

The travel forecast is reported in person-trips. In particular, AAA and IHS Markit forecast the total U.S. holiday travel volume and expected mode of transportation. The travel forecast presented in this report was prepared the week of Nov. 15, 2021.

About AAA

AAA provides more than 62 million members with automotive, travel, insurance and financial services through its federation of independently owned motor clubs and nearly 1,000 branch offices across North America. Since 1902, AAA has been a leader and advocate for the motorist and safe mobility. Drivers can request roadside assistance, identify nearby gas prices, locate discounts, book a hotel or map a route via the AAA Mobile app. AAA Texas branch offices throughout the state can be found by visiting www.AAA.com. Follow AAA Texas on Twitter: @AAATexas and Facebook: www.facebook.com/AAATexas.