Airports and roads may seem more crowded this year as AAA predicts 53.4 million people will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, up 13% from 2020. This brings travel volumes within 5% of pre-pandemic levels in 2019, with air travel almost completely recovering from its dramatic fall during the pandemic, up 80% over last year.

As restrictions continue to lift and consumer confidence builds, AAA urges travelers to be proactive when making their travel plans this holiday season.

“This Thanksgiving, people are ready to get back to traveling,” said Bevi Powell, senior vice president, AAA East Central. “With restrictions being lifted and travel more accessible than in 2020, making new holiday memories with family and friends is once again a priority for Americans.”

With 6.4 million more Americans traveling this Thanksgiving coupled with the recent opening of the U.S. borders to fully vaccinated international travelers—people should prepare for roads and airports to be noticeably more crowded.

East North Central Region Thanksgiving Forecast (Wednesday, Nov. 24 to Sunday, Nov. 28) Region includes Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin

  • Automobile: 7.9 Million travelers, up 8.1% from 2020
  • Air Travel: 781,000 travelers, up 82.8% from 2020
  • Other (bus, train, ship, etc.): 171,000 travelers, up 264.9% from 2020
  • Region Total: 8.85 Million travelers, up 13.8% from 2020

Despite gas costing more than a dollar more per gallon than this time last year, 90% of people plan to travel by car as their preferred mode of travel. Before heading out, motorists should ensure their vehicles are road trip-ready to avoid a breakdown along the way. AAA expects to rescue more than 400,000 Americans at the roadside this Thanksgiving. Motorists should take their vehicles to a trusted repair facility to perform any needed maintenance before heading out on a road trip.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released its recommendations for holiday gatherings and related travel, saying that the best way to minimize COVID-19 risk is to get vaccinated if you’re eligible. However, everyone’s situation is unique and therefore, AAA urges anyone considering gathering or traveling for Thanksgiving to consult CDC guidance before finalizing holiday plans.

  • Be Patient. The roads and airports will be busy so plan ahead.
  • Be Early. Arrive at the airport early so you’ll have plenty of time to get through longer TSA lines and other travel checkpoints. For domestic travel, AAA suggests 2 hours ahead of departure time and 3 hours for international. Hit the road when there’s less traffic and allow for extra time when traveling to your destination.
  • Be Proactive. Book flights, car rentals, accommodations and other activities as early as possible. Consider working with a travel advisor who can make any last-minute changes to travel plans, explore travel insurance options and help plan a trip that meets your needs and comfort level this holiday season.
  • Be Protected—Both You and Your Trip. If you plan to travel during the holidays, it’s essential to do so safely and understand how to protect yourself, your loved ones and your investment while traveling. Also, as travel restrictions remain in flux, it’s essential to know requirements and recommendations based on your vaccination status, where you’re traveling from and where you’re traveling to. AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map and TripTik.AAA.com are also helpful resources travelers may use for free to understand closures, recommendations and requirements when traveling in the U.S.

INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts drivers will experience the worst congestion heading into the holiday weekend as commuters leave work early and mix with holiday travelers. Major metro areas across the U.S. could see more than double the delays versus typical drive times.

Daily Worst and Best Times to Travel:

Wednesday

  • Worst: 12-8 p.m.
  • Best: After 9 p.m.

Thursday

  • Worst: 12-3 p.m.
  • Best: Before 11 a.m.

Friday

  • Worst: 1-4 p.m.
  • Best: Before 11 a.m.

Saturday

  • Worst: 2-7 p.m.
  • Before 12 p.m.

Sunday

  • Worst: 1-7 p.m.
  • Best: Before 12 p.m.

Even with air travel seeing a boost this year, AAA finds that the average lowest airfare is 27.3% less than last year coming in at $132. Tuesday and Wednesday are still the most expensive and heaviest travel days with Monday being the lightest and least expensive. Those wanting to book last minute travel will find the best fares about two weeks before Thanksgiving but keep in mind availability may be limited.

Mid-range hotel rates have increased about 39%, with average nightly rates ranging between $137 and $172 for AAA Approved Hotels.

Daily car rental rates have increased 4% compared to last Thanksgiving at $98. Over the summer, consumers experienced high costs and limited availability of rental cars in some markets due to the semi-conductor chip shortage impacting automakers. While this shortage has subsided, it could return as the holidays near.

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