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December 18, 2014 Published in Top Stories, Traffic & Transportation

Christmastime Travel Is Increasing For The Sixth Year To 2.45 Million Travelers From Washington Metro Area

(Courtesy Image)

(Courtesy Image)

Forty-one percent of the region’s total population of 5,949,859 residents are predicted to head off for vacation in the coming week, projects AAA Mid-Atlantic. In all, 2,450,700 people in the Washington metro area are projected to journey 50 miles or more from home for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, the AAA Leisure Travel Index reveals. It is a 3.3 percent increase from the 2,371,400 people who traveled last year. This is the sixth consecutive year of increases and is the highest travel volume recorded for the Christmastide season in the Washington metro area, which goes back to 2001, explains the leisure travel organization.

Despite the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping, the bags are packed and it’s Christmas merriment on every mode of transportation. The free-fall in the price of gasoline is an extra Christmas bonus for the 2.2 million people in the Washington metro area who are traveling by vehicles to their holiday destinations, estimates AAA Mid-Atlantic. What’s more, nearly 132,000 Washington area residents are flying to their holiday destinations, and over 95,000 locals are traveling by other modes, including bus, rail and cruise, for a grand total of 2.45 million travelers, forecasts AAA, the nation’s largest leisure travel organization.

“Given their nativity, Washington area residents have a strong track record for traveling away from this region at Christmastime. Yet this year’s mass departure is an exceptional one, as an estimated four out of ten Washingtonians – a figure approaching half the local populace – are projected to travel hither, yon, and afar for the holidays,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Not only is this the biggest exodus since the onset of the Great Recession in 2007, it is also the highest number of holiday travelers hailing from this area since records have been kept.”

AA Mid-Atlantic’s 2014 Christmas/New Year’s Travel Projections for the Washington SMSA

Total Travel & Percentage Increase Automobile Travel & Percentage Increase Air Travel & Percentage Increase Other Modes OfTravel & Percentage Increase
2,451,000 area residents;Up 3.3% from 2,371,400 in 2013.


2,224,000 persons (90.7% of area travelers)Up 3.5% from 2,148,500 folks in 2013. 132,000 persons  (5.4% of local  travelers)Up 0.1% from 131,600 residents in 2013.


95,100 persons  (3.9% of  travelers)Up 4.2% from 91,300 people in 2013.

Nearly 91% of travelers (90.7 percent) or 2,223,900 local residents are projected to travel by automobile this Christmas and New Year’s. That’s a modest increase of 3.5 percent over the same period of time a year ago. Christmas holiday air travel at the big three area airports is expected remain steady with 131,700 travelers as compared to the 131,600 local holiday air passengers originating in this area in 2013. Just over 95,000 Washington area residents will leave from train and bus terminals for their holiday getaways, AAA Mid-Atlantic is forecasting.

The yuletide calendar is having a positive effect on the number of travelers expected this year. This year the holiday falls on a Thursday, creating a holiday travel season that is one day longer than last year’s and the longest since 2008, offering travelers more options for departures and return trips. This flexibility makes it possible for more people to fit holiday travel into their schedules.

Automobile travel remains dominant mode of transportation, air travel remains steady

Nearly ninety-one percent of travelers or 2,223,900 Washington area residents are projected to travel by automobile this Christmas and New Year’s with an increase of 3.5 percent over the same period one year ago. “The continued fall of gas prices has resulted in a dividend to consumers and has helped drive the rise in disposable income,” Townsend noted. “The increase in car travel, along with the rise in overall travel, is driven by similar reasons as seen prior to Thanksgiving, where improved consumer finances are increasing optimism about the future.”

Metro area (95,100 persons in all) will be heading off to Union Station, bus terminals or cruise ships. People traveling by bus can still find one-way fares on Christmas Eve morning as low as $18 from Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia if traveling by Megabus. A one-way trip to Buffalo, New York that’s departing Union Station on Christmas Day will run you $72 and it takes 11 hours and forty minutes. The same trip last year ran $55. (Bus rates are current as of Dec.17.)

Union Station’s trains will also be humming. Amtrak operates approximately 85 trains daily into and out of Union Station in Washington, D.C. During FY 2014, 5,028,928 rail passengers boarded or alighted trains at Union Station, figures from Amtrak show. This is down 0.1% from FY 2013. Amtrak also operates approximately 57 MARC Penn Line trains daily in Maryland. On Dec. 7, 2013, MARC began offering weekend service with nine Saturday round trips and six Sunday round trips. The station also serves Virginia Railway Express trains.

Impact of gasoline prices on travel plans

The national average price of gasoline is at the lowest level in five years. On December 17, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in the Washington metro area was $2.58 and the national average was $2.51. The national average price for regular unleaded gasoline could drop below $2.50 by the end of the week, and likely will fall to the lowest level since 2009 in a matter of days.

AAA expects to rescue 1.1 million motorists during the holiday season

Between Dec. 23 and January 4, AAA expects to come to the rescue of 1.1 million motorists nationally with the primary reasons for breakdowns being dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts. In the Mid-Atlantic region AAA expects to rescue over 74,000 motorists; with 2,400 in Washington, D.C. AAA recommends motorists check battery and tire condition and prepare vehicles for winter driving before heading out on a holiday getaway. Car care tips and information are available at

Hotel rates vary based on Diamond rating, Car rental rates decrease

According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings in Washington, D.C. are expected to average $111 per night compared to $107 last year. Travelers planning to stay at AAA Two Diamond hotels can expect to pay an average cost of $95 per night, compared to $102 in 2013. Weekend daily car rental rates in Washington, D.C. are expected to average $71, compared to $83 last year, a 14 % decrease.

National picture

Nationally, AAA projects 98.6 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the year-end holiday season, an increase of four percent from the 94.8 million people who traveled last year. This upward trend marks the highest forecast growth rate for the year-end holiday season since 2009 and the highest travel volume for the holiday period on record. (AAA data dates back to 2001.)

As to their preferred modes of transportation for the holidays, nearly ninety-one percent of travelers, or 89.5 million persons, will travel by automobile (an increase of 4.2 percent); 5.7 million travelers will fly to their holiday destinations (a one percent increase from last year); and 3.35 million persons will travel by rail or bus and even, by sea via cruise ship.

AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight. The Colorado-based business information provider teamed with AAA in 2009 to jointly analyze travel trends during the major holidays. AAA has been reporting on holiday travel trends for more than two decades. The complete AAA/IHS Global Insight 2014 Year-End Travel Forecast can be found here.

The year-end holiday period is defined as Tuesday, Dec. 23 to Sunday, Jan. 4.


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