AAA’s Memorial Day holiday travel forecast predicts 60% more travelers than last year, still nearly 6 million fewer than pre-pandemic.
AAA Travel expects a significant rebound in the number of Americans planning to travel this Memorial Day holiday weekend. From May 27 through May 31, more than 37 million people are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home, an increase of 60% from last year when only 23 million traveled, the lowest on record since AAA began recording in 2000.
With 34 million Americans planning Memorial Day road trips, auto travel is expected to increase 52% compared to 2020. Nearly 12 million more Americans will travel by car this holiday than in 2020, though this is still 9% less than in 2019. More than 9 in 10 Memorial Day travelers will drive to their destinations, as many Americans continue to substitute road trips for travel via planes, trains and other modes of transportation.
The expected strong increase in demand from last year’s holiday, which fell during the early phase of the pandemic, still represents 13%—or nearly 6 million—fewer travelers than in 2019. AAA urges those who choose to travel this year to exercise caution and take measures to protect themselves and others as the pandemic continues.
“As more people get the COVID-19 vaccine and consumer confidence grows, Americans are demonstrating a strong desire to travel this Memorial Day,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel. “This pent-up demand will result in a significant increase in Memorial Day travel, which is a strong indicator for summer, though we must all remember to continue taking important safety precautions.”
AAA notes that the actual number of holiday travelers could fluctuate as we approach Memorial Day. If there is an increase in reported cases attributed to new COVID-19 variants, some people may decide to stay home, while others may note the strong progress in vaccinations and make last-minute decisions to travel. AAA recommends working with a travel agent, who can help if you need to make any last-minute changes to travel plans as well as explore travel insurance options and help you plan a vacation that meets your needs and comfort-level this summer.
Another factor contributing to the expected increase in travel this holiday is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recently updated guidance that fully vaccinated people can travel domestically at low risk to themselves, while taking proper precautions.
After a historically low year of air travel in 2020, this Memorial Day will see nearly 2.5 million Americans boarding airplanes, nearly six times more than last year (+577%). Still, 750,000 fewer people will take to the skies this holiday compared to 2019. AAA reminds air travelers that masks are required in all airports and on flights.
Meanwhile, just 237,000 Americans are expected to travel by other modes, including bus and train, this Memorial Day. This is the second-lowest volume on record, higher only than the 185,000 who traveled in 2020. In 2021, travel via these modes will be 88% below 2019 levels.
AAA did not issue a Memorial Day holiday travel forecast in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, actual travel volumes were recorded after the holiday for comparison purposes this year.
INRIX predicts drivers will encounter the longest travel delays before the holiday weekend, particularly during the afternoons on Thursday, May 27 and Friday, May 28. Drivers in several major U.S. metros could experience double the travel times compared to a normal trip, while Atlanta, Houston and New York drivers could see more than three times the delay on the busiest corridors.
“Although vehicle trips are down as much as 40% in some metros, afternoon congestion is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels. With the increase of holiday travelers to the typical afternoon commute, drivers in the larger metros should expect longer delays heading into the holiday weekend,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst, INRIX. “Travelers should anticipate delays to start on Wednesday and continue through Memorial Day. Our advice to drivers is to avoid the evening commute times and plan alternate routes.”
Motorists hitting the road this week to celebrate the unofficial kick-off to summer will be greeted with the most expensive Memorial Day weekend gas prices since 2014. The national average has stabilized following the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack, but pump prices are likely to fluctuate leading up to the holiday weekend. Over the past weekend, the national gas price average declined a penny to $3.03, the first decrease in two weeks. While barely cheaper on the week, the average is 17 cents more than last month and $1.12 more expensive than last year.
While the Colonial Pipeline is back in operation and deliveries are in progress, some stations in the southeast continue to experience supply strain. This is likely to extend into the holiday weekend, but motorists will be able to fill-up.
“Holiday road trippers may come across some gas stations with low fuel supply in popular travel destinations, like beaches, mountains or national parks. However, markets are not expected to be fuel-less, like we saw in the wake of the pipeline shutdown,” said Jeanette McGee, AAA spokesperson.