Motorists can expect peak congestion on Dec. 20 and 21 as commuters mix with holiday travelers
TAMPA - 'Tis the season to spend with family and friends, and this year Americans are traveling in record numbers. AAA forecasts 107.3 million Americans will take to planes, trains, automobiles and other modes of transportation during the year-end holiday period from Saturday, Dec. 23 through Monday, Jan. 1.
This will be the highest year-end travel volume on record and a 3.1 percent increase in travel volume compared with last year.
2017 marks the ninth consecutive year of rising year-end holiday travel. Since 2005, total year-end holiday travel volume has grown by 21.6 million, an increase of more than 25 percent. Across the board this year, travel has increased year-over-year for every major holiday weekend – Memorial Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving – and we project the same for the year-end holiday period.
"Overall, our research shows that Americans are doing better than last year and want to go somewhere for the holidays," said Vicky Evans, Assistant Vice President, AAA Travel. "Whether they are going home or visiting a new destination, Americans have more money to finance their travel plans, thanks to a stronger economy and growing consumer confidence.
"Depending on where your travels take you, consider using a travel agent to plan your final trip of the year," Evans continued. "Of course, winter weather can be unpredictable, and cause unexpected issues like flight delays or cancellations. If that happens to you, the right travel insurance plan will help offset out-of-pocket expenses."
By the Numbers: 2017 Year-End Holiday Travel Forecast
All Travel Modes: 107.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more (3.2 million more than last year)
5.6 million Floridians will travel 50 miles or more (3.3% or 180,000 more people than last year)
Automobiles: The majority of travelers - 97.4 million - will hit the road (a 3 percent year-over-year increase)
5 million Floridians will hit the road (3.3% or 161,000 more people than last year)
Planes: 6.4 million people will travel by air, a 4.1 percent increase and the fourth year of consecutive air travel volume increases
306,000 Floridians will travel by air during the holiday period (4% or 12,000 more people than last year)
Trains, Buses, Rails and Cruise Ships: Travel across these sectors will increase by 2.2 percent to 3.6 million
211,000 Floridians will use these alternate modes of transportation (3.6% or 7,000 more people than last year)
Pump Prices to Decline
The price of gasoline this holiday season is comparable to what motorists paid at the pump last year.
The daily average for a gallon of gasoline in Florida is $2.40.
Today's average price is 8 cents more than the state average on Christmas Day 2016; 1-cent more than New Year's Eve.
Strong gasoline production and supply levels should allow gas prices to drop another 10 cents, before the end of the year.
Holiday Headache Hot Spots
For the 97.4 million Americans traveling by automobile, INRIX, a global transportation analytics company, in collaboration with AAA, predicts travel times during the holiday week could be as much as three times longer than the normal trip. Based on historical and recent travel trends, INRIX expects drivers will experience the greatest amount of congestion before the holiday week – on Wednesday, Dec. 20 and Thursday, Dec. 21 – in the late afternoon as commuters leave work early and mix with holiday travelers.
“With record-level travelers hitting the road this holiday, drivers must be prepared for delays in major metros,” says Dr. Graham Cookson, chief economist & head of research at INRIX. “Our advice to drivers is to avoid peak times altogether or consider alternative routes.”
Travel Tip: Try to avoid traveling through major cities during peak travel times. The best times to leave are typically early morning or after the morning commute because the roads should be less crowded and you will have more time to get to your destination safely. If your schedule permits, traveling on the holiday itself often results in fewer cars on the road.
Airfare and hotel rates trend cheaper, car rentals increase year-over-year
Airfares - Holiday airfares are nearly 20 percent cheaper than last year. At $165, the average end of year holiday airfare for a round-trip flight for the top 40 domestic routes is at a five-year low, according to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index. On average, 2017 airfares are 5 percent less expensive compared to 2016. Overall, competition, capacity over-expansion and lower oil prices are contributing to the decline.
Hotels - Travelers can also find savings at AAA Two and Three Diamond Rated hotels. On average, a Three Diamond hotel nightly rate is $156, a two percent year-over-year decrease. The Two Diamond nightly average rate is $121, a five percent decrease from last year.
Rental Cars - Similar to Thanksgiving, car rental rates are more expensive on the year. At $74, the daily car rental rate increased 11 percent. This sets a new five-year record high rate for year-end holiday travel. The increase is on par with the rate increases seen at Thanksgiving.
Top 10 Year-End Holiday Travel Destinations
For a second year, Orlando, Florida, and Anaheim, California, top this year’s top 10 holiday destinations based on AAA.com bookings. Warmer weather destinations reign supreme in winter months with Cancun, Kahului (Maui) and Montego Bay gaining in popularity as holiday spots compared with last year.
Travel Tip: Airports will be busy and security lines may be longer than usual around the holidays. Travelers should plan to arrive at the airport at least two hours prior to the scheduled departure of their flight. During peak travel times, contact your airline for guidance, as it may be necessary to arrive even earlier. This time of year travelers need to also be aware of potential weather delays. Make sure to check flight status regularly before traveling to the airport. To expedite travel, AAA recommends enrolling in programs such as TSA PreCheck and Global Entry.
Drive Safely - 10,000 Crashes Reported in Florida During the 2016 Holiday Season
According to data from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there were more than 10,000 crashes on Florida roads during the 2016 holiday season (December 23 - January 2), including 112 fatalities and almost 1,600 DUI arrests. The highest number of DUIs were issued on New Year’s Day and Christmas Eve.
“No matter where you’re headed for the holidays, it’s important to make safety a priority,” said Amy Stracke, Executive Director of the Auto Club Group Traffic Safety Foundation and Managing Director of Traffic Safety Advocacy, AAA – The Auto Club Group. ”Always buckle up and make sure everyone in the vehicle does the same. Also, leave early so there’s no need to rush, and avoid distracted and impaired driving.”
Lockouts, Flat Tires to Strand Nearly One Million Motorists
The vast majority of holiday travelers will drive to their destinations, and AAA expects to rescue nearly one million (901,600) motorists. Car battery-related issues, lockouts and flat tires will be the leading reasons AAA is called for roadside assistance over the holidays. For members in need of roadside assistance, download the AAA Mobile app, visit AAA.com or call 1-800-AAA-HELP. For added convenience, Wazers can now request AAA roadside assistance directly from the Waze app by tapping the Report menu.
Before hitting the road, make sure your vehicle is road-trip ready. Stop by a trusted repair shop, such as one of the more than 7,000 AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities across North America, for an inspection. In case of an emergency, be prepared by keeping a cell phone and charger with you at all times. Carry an emergency kit with a flashlight, extra batteries, warning devices such as flares or reflective triangles, jumper cables, a first-aid kit and extra water.
Travel Tip: Get plenty of rest before setting out on a holiday road trip and schedule breaks every two hours or 100 miles to remain alert and avoid driving drowsy. Also, be aware of the dangers of driving distracted. Drivers should designate a passenger to serve as their official text messenger and navigator.