A total of 54.3 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more away from home this Thanksgiving, AAA is forecasting. This represents a 4.8 percent increase over last year. This will be fueled by “desiderium,” that ardent desire to give thanks and certain longing to break bread with family and friends around the Thanksgiving table. The 2018 holiday weekend will see the highest Thanksgiving travel volume in more than a dozen years (since 2005), with 2.5 million more people taking to the nation’s roads, skies, rails and waterways compared with last year.

“Consumers have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season: higher wages, more disposable income and rising levels of household wealth,” said Bill Sutherland, AAA Travel senior vice president. “This is translating into more travelers kicking off the holiday season with a Thanksgiving getaway, building on a positive year for the travel industry.”

For the 48.5 million Americans planning a Thanksgiving road trip, INRIX, a global mobility analytics company, predicts travel times in the most congested cities in the U.S. could be as much as four times longer than a normal trip.

If you think “Terrible Traffic Tuesday” only occurs on the day after Labor Day in the Washington metro area, you better think again, warns AAA Mid-Atlantic. AAA is collaborating with INRIX to predict the times when congestion will be the worst during the Thanksgiving holiday period.

“For Thanksgiving holiday travelers making the exodus from the Washington metro area, the busiest travel time and the longest delays will occur on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving between the hours of 5:00 p.m. and  7:00 p.m.,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “The last place you will want to be during those hours is on the Capital Beltway Clockwise.”

Total Thanksgiving Holiday Travelers, 2002-20018

By the Numbers: 2018 Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Forecast

  • Automobiles: The vast majority of travelers – 48.5 million – will hit the road this Thanksgiving, nearly 5 percent more than last year.
  • Planes: The largest growth in holiday travel is by air, at 5.4 percent, with 4.27 million travelers.
  • Trains, Buses and Cruise Ships: Travel across these sectors will increase by 1.4 percent, with a total 1.48 million passengers.

The Thanksgiving holiday period is defined as Wednesday, Nov. 21 to Sunday, Nov. 25.

Drivers Beware: Thanksgiving’s Terrible Traffic

Worst Times to Hit the Road in America's Largest Cities

Based on historical and recent travel trends, INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts drivers will experience the greatest amount of congestion Thanksgiving week during the early evening commute period, with travel times starting to increase on Monday. Drivers in San Francisco, New York City and Boston will see the largest delays – nearly quadruple normal drive times.

“Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips, and this year will be no different,” says Trevor Reed, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic. Our advice to drivers is to avoid commuting times in major cities altogether or plan alternative routes.”

In most cases, the best days to travel will be on Thanksgiving Day, Friday or Saturday. Drivers should expect increased travel times on Sunday as most holiday travelers will be making their way home after the long weekend.

Worst Travel Times to America's Busiest Airports

“Anyone caught on the Inner Loop of the Capital Beltway on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving during the evening rush hour will face the worst traffic jams and experience delays two and a half time the delays they normally experience during the evening rush on any other day,” said Townsend. “Through-travelers along the I-95 Corridor account for ‘30 to 40 percent of Beltway traffic each day.’ Their numbers will swell that day and during those hours. That’s bad news, as area residents heading home from work and school converge with holiday travelers heading out of town and holiday road-trippers, as delays and congestion peak.”

Across the country, travelers who take to the sky must account for long security lines, but also increased drive times to the airport. INRIX expects delays getting to the nation’s busiest airports could be as long as an hour and a half. 

Higher Gas Prices Not Keeping Holiday Travelers Home

Motorists can expect to pay the highest Thanksgiving gas prices in four years, with a national average of $2.79 as of November 1, 31-cents more than a year ago. “Motorists have become accustomed to this year’s more expensive gas prices and won’t let higher fuel costs deter them from taking Thanksgiving road trips,” said AAA gas price expert Jeanette Casselano.

Best Times to Fly and Book Thanksgiving Flights

An analysis of AAA’s flight booking data from the last three years revealed that the Tuesday and Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving are usually the most popular air travel days and have the highest average price per roundtrip ticket. Meanwhile, Thanksgiving Day consistently has the lowest average price per ticket and is the lightest travel day. Travelers looking to save money this holiday season can fly the morning of the holiday and arrive just in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

Day

3-Year Average Ticket Price

Expected Crowds

Monday (Nov. 19, 2018)

$465

Moderate

Tuesday (Nov. 20, 2018)

$509

Heavy

Wednesday (Nov. 21, 2018)

$507

Heavy

Thursday (Nov. 22, 2018)

$446

Light

Most travelers booked their flights for Thanksgiving between September 23 and October 25, paying an average ticket price of $478 roundtrip. Procrastinating travelers who still need to book their flights may find cheaper airfares, paying an average ticket price of $459 between now and November 15. However, last-minute flight availability will likely be very limited.  

Car Rental Costs Fall, Hotel Prices Mixed

Travelers can expect to save on car rentals this Thanksgiving holiday season. At $63, the average daily rate is 10 percent less than last year, according to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index. Travelers can also save on AAA Three Diamond hotels, with an average nightly rate of $166, a decline of six percent compared to last year. Conversely, the average rate for AAA Two Diamond hotels has increased six percent with an average nightly cost of $124.

Top 10 Thanksgiving Destinations

Many travelers will seek iconic American cities, theme parks and other warm-weather destinations this Thanksgiving. Orlando, New York City and Anaheim top this year’s top 10 holiday destinations based on AAA’s online and travel agency air and tour bookings. Punta Cana, Dallas/Fort Worth and Miami are all gaining popularity as holiday spots compared with last year.

  1. Orlando, Florida
  2. New York, New York
  3. Anaheim, California
  4. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
  5. Las Vegas, Nevada
  6. Cancun, Mexico
  7. Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas
  8. Honolulu, Hawaii
  9. Washington, D.C.
  10. Miami, Florida

AAA to Rescue Nearly 360,000 Motorists AAA expects to rescue nearly 360,000 motorists at the roadside this Thanksgiving. Dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires will be the leading reasons. AAA recommends motorists take their vehicle to a trusted repair facility to perform any needed maintenance before heading out. Oil changes, fluid level checks, battery tests and tire inspections go a long way toward reducing the chances of a breakdown.

Download the AAA Mobile App Before Thanksgiving
Before heading out on a trip for Thanksgiving, download the free AAA Mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android. Travelers can use the app to map a route, find the lowest gas prices, access exclusive member discounts, make travel arrangements, request AAA roadside assistance, find AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities and more. Learn more at  AAA.com/mobile.

With the AAA Mobile app, travelers can also find nearly 59,000 AAA Diamond Rated hotels and restaurants. AAA’s is the only rating system that uses full-time, professionally trained inspectors to evaluate each property on an annual basis. Every AAA Inspected & Approved establishment offers the assurance of acceptable cleanliness, comfort and hospitality, and ratings of One to Five Diamonds help travelers find the right match for amenities and services.

AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Markit. The London-based business information provider teamed with AAA in 2009 to jointly analyze travel trends during major holidays. AAA has been reporting on holiday travel trends for more than two decades. The complete AAA/IHS Markit 2018 Thanksgiving holiday travel forecast is available here.