Over 39.2 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home this Memorial Day weekend according to AAA, making the unofficial start to summer a busy one.
Despite soaring gas prices, that are hitting all-time highs, the expected number of travelers is an increase of 8.3% over 2021, bringing travel volumes almost in line with those in 2017. Air travel also continues to rebound, up 25% over last year, the second-largest increase since 2010. With volumes closing in on pre-pandemic levels, AAA urges travelers to book now and remember flexibility is key this Memorial Day weekend.
“Memorial Day is always a good predictor of what’s to come for summer travel,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel. “Based on our projections, summer travel isn’t just heating up, it will be on fire. People are overdue for a vacation and they are looking to catch up on some much-needed R&R in the coming months.”
Air travel volume, which began to rally last Thanksgiving, will hit levels just shy of 2019 with 3 million people expected to take to the skies this Memorial Day weekend. In fact, the percentage of people traveling by air will surpass 2019 levels with 7.7% of travelers choosing air travel as their preferred mode (it was 7.5% in 2019)
“Air travel has faced several challenges since the beginning of the year,” continued Twidale. “With the type of volume we anticipate, we continue to recommend the safety net of a travel agent and travel insurance. Both are a lifesaver if something unexpectedly derails your travel plans.”
How to Travel Stress-Free This Summer
Memorial Day weekend is expected to be the busiest in two years, building on an upward trend that began earlier this spring. This year’s forecast marks the second-highest single-year increase in travelers since 2010 (2021 was the highest), bringing volumes almost in line with pre-pandemic levels.
Despite historic gas prices, breaching the $4 mark in early March, 34.9 million people plan to travel by car, up 4.6% over last year. A greater portion of travelers are opting for air and other modes of travel than in previous years. Share of car travel fell from 92.1% last year to 88.9% this year, a slight indication that higher prices at the pump are having an impact on how people choose to travel this Memorial Day. Regardless of which mode they choose, travelers should prepare for a busy holiday weekend.
Plan, plan and then plan some more. Book travel plans now if you haven’t already – the earlier the better to lock in the best rate and any discounts for pre-paying in full. Flights, car rentals, accommodations, tours, cruises and other activities are in high demand and availability is filling up. Prices are already skewing higher and with greater demand, finding last-minute deals is unlikely.
• Air—AAA finds that the average lowest airfare is 6% more than last year coming in at $184/ticket with Saturday being the most expensive day to fly and Monday the least.
• Hotels—Mid-range hotel rates have increased about 42%, with the average lowest nightly rates ranging between approximately $199 – $257/night for AAA Approved Hotels.
• Car Rentals—Daily car rental rates have decreased 16% compared to last year, with the average lowest rate coming in at $100/day.
Remember, flexibility is important when considering Memorial Day travel plans – look to travel on off-peak times or days, pick a hidden gem closer to home or opt to stay at an all-inclusive resort with plenty of on-site activities. This limits the need for a rental car and paying a la carte for entertainment and dining. Based on AAA booking data, Thursday is shaping up to be the busiest day for air travel during the Memorial Day travel period (May 26 – May 30) with Monday being the lightest. For those hitting the road, Thursday and Friday are anticipated to be peak traffic days. AAA suggests reducing stress by:
• Arriving at the airport at least two hours early for domestic flights and three hours for international.
• Consider booking a flight during non-peak travel periods to cut down on wait times.
• Hitting the road when there’s less traffic and allowing extra time when traveling to your destination.
For the 34.9 million Americans hitting the road, it’s always advising to get your vehicle road-trip ready with a full vehicle inspection. AAA expects to respond to over 388,000 calls for help over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Get key components checked like the battery, fuel system, tires, brakes and fluid levels and make sure your vehicle’s emergency kit is fully stocked.
Remember Your Travel Essentials
At the start of planning any trip, AAA reminds travelers not to forget the essentials – working with a travel agent and investigating travel insurance. A travel agent is an industry expert with many resources at their disposal to help plan and organize a trip that fits your individual needs and budget. They can easily look at a variety of options and scenarios to find savings not always available to the public. Plus if something goes wrong, your travel agent becomes your advocate – they will handle the logistics of changing or re-booking reservations.
AAA also highly recommends travel insurance to cover unexpected delays or trip interruptions. Travel insurance provides a safety net should something unexpected happen ahead of or during your trip. Travel agents can also advise on what travel insurance policy makes the most sense. They know you, your trip, your budget and your specific needs.
Big Cities and Beaches are Top Destinations
AAA booking data reveals that big cities and beaches are top destinations this Memorial Day, both suitable and abroad.
Roads Will Be Busy
INRIX predicts drivers will encounter the longest travel delays before the holiday weekend, especially during the afternoons on Thursday, May 26 and Friday, May 27. Drivers in major US metros could experience double the travel times compared to a normal trip.
“Even with a significant increase in gas prices, we expect a large jump in holiday driving compared to the last few years”, says Bob Pishue, Transportation Analyst, INRIX. “Drivers should expect congestion on major roads around big cities and popular destinations. Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic.”
Remember – Stay Safe and Patient
While most COVID-19 restrictions have eased, it’s important to keep safety in mind for yourself and others. Also, with a busy travel season, it’s easy to lose patience but remember, everyone has a common goal – getting to their destination safely. For those looking to take a few extra precautions, AAA recommends:
• Traveling with your bubble. This type of travel rose to popularity during the pandemic when many optional to vacation with people they were in close contact with. Consider taking a group trip to divvy up costs for things like activities and accommodations. If everyone is spread out, a travel agent can help manage the logistics.
• When booking a place to stay, look for accommodations that prioritize cleanliness and have implemented additional housekeeping standards since the start of the pandemic. In 2021, AAA enhanced its housekeeping evaluation to include objective, scientific validation of the cleanliness of common surfaces throughout hotels. Hotels that meet these new standards are now recognized as Inspected Clean. Look for this designation or to browse all of AAA’s Diamond properties, click here.
• Everything from airports to restaurants to attractions will be busier this Memorial Day, which means more people congregating. AAA advises travelers to follow CDC guidance, which at this time, is still recommending that people wear masks in indoor public transportation settings (airports, bus/train terminals, public transportation like subways/metros, airplanes, trains and buses).
In cooperation with AAA, IHS Markit– a world leader in critical information, analytics and expertise — developed a unique methodology to 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. AAA and IHS Markit have quantified holiday travel volumes going back to 2000.
Historical travel volume estimates come from DK SHIFFLET’s TRAVEL PERFORMANCE/Monitorsm. The PERFORMANCE/Monitorsm is a comprehensive study measuring the travel behavior of US residents. DK SHIFFLET contacts over 50,000 US households each month to obtain detailed travel data, resulting in the unique ability to estimate visitor volume and spending, identify trends, and forecast US travel behavior —all after the trips have been taken.
The travel forecast is reported in person-trips. In particular, AAA and IHS Markit forecast the total US holiday travel volume and expected mode of transportation. The travel forecast presented in this report was prepared the week of April 11, 2022.