Holiday travel is expected to be over-the-top crazy this year

ConsumerAffairs

But there are some glimmers of joy, such as better airfares and gas prices

How bad will holiday travel be this year? Plenty bad says AAA – bad as in 115 million Americans expected to travel over Christmas and New Year’s, the second highest year-end holiday travel forecast since AAA began tracking in 2000.

And people will be everywhere – airports, railway stations, buses, cruise ships, and the highways.

“This year-end holiday forecast, with an additional 2.5 million travelers compared to last year, mirrors what AAA Travel has been observing throughout 2023,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel. “More Americans are investing in travel, despite the cost, to make memories with loved ones and experience new places.” 

A mixture of pain points

You might expect that much of the lunacy will be on the airlines’ shoulders, but AAA data says that while there’ll be about 300,000 more airline passengers than last year, there’ll be nearly 2 million more cars on the highways.

Nevertheless, drivers can expect to pay about the same or less for a gallon of gas than they did last holiday season, when the national average on Christmas Day and New Year's Day was $3.10. 

What is on the airlines' shoulders, though, is getting people to their destinations on time. If this year is anything like last year, when the Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report said that the overall percentage of on-time arrivals for last December was 69%, some travelers may be late for Christmas dinner.

Delta had the best on-time record with 78%, followed by American (73.7%), and United (71.8). Then, it went downhill quickly after that with Spirit (65%), Southwest (60.7%), JetBlue (59.1%), Alaska (57.1%), Hawaiian (58.1%), Allegiant (57.2%), and Frontier (56.6%).

You would think that another airline-related issue for consumers is anyone who hasn’t purchased their ticket, yet, would be in for a rude awakening, but AAA says that’s not the case.

According to AAA data, the average price for a roundtrip ticket to Las Vegas is $508 now compared to $705 in 2022, and $613 to Orlando, down from $735 last year.

“It depends on your desired route and destination. There are last-minute deals to be found, but if your preference is a nonstop flight with seat selection, AAA recommends booking well in advance and protecting your investment with travel insurance,” Twidale added. 

Driving and airport parking tips to avoid the headaches

If you’re driving, when should you head out and what cities are going to have the most cluster headaches? Here’s what AAA’s data show:

Best and Worst Travel Time by Car

Please note that the times listed below are for the time zone in which the metro is located.  

For example, Atlanta routes = ET and Los Angeles routes = PT 

Date 

Worst Travel Time 

Best Travel Time 

Saturday, Dec 23 

11:00 AM – 7:00 PM 

Before 10:00 AM 

Sunday, Dec 24 

Minimal Traffic Impact Expected 

Monday, Dec 25 

Minimal Traffic Impact Expected 

Tuesday, Dec 26 

1:00 – 5:00 PM 

Before 12:00 PM 

Wednesday, Dec 27 

1:00 – 7:00 PM 

Before 12:00 PM 

Thursday, Dec 28 

2:00 – 8:00 PM 

Before 12:00 PM 

Friday, Dec 29 

2:00 – 8:00 PM 

Before 12:00 PM 

Saturday, Dec 30 

5:00 – 7:00 PM 

Before 12:00 PM 

Sunday, Dec 31 

Minimal Traffic Impact Expected 

Monday, Jan 01 

Minimal Traffic Impact Expected 

Peak Congestion by Metro 

Route 

Peak Congestion Period 

Est. Travel Time 

Compared to Typical 

Atlanta 

Augusta to Atlanta via I-20 W 

Monday 12/30, 7:15 PM 

1 hour 56 minutes  

23% 

Boston 

Boston to Portsmouth via I-95 N 

Saturday 12/23, 4:15 PM 

1 hour 41 minutes 

55% 

Chicago 

Milwaukee to Chicago via I-94 E 

Thursday 12/28, 5:30 PM 

1 hour 47 minutes 

29% 

Denver 

Fort Collins to Denver via I-25 S 

Friday 12/29, 2:00 PM 

1 hour 40 minutes  

67% 

Detroit 

Detroit to Cleveland via I-75 S 

Saturday 12/23, 6:45 PM 

3 hours 18 minutes 

27% 

Houston 

Houston to Galveston via I-45 S 

Saturday 12/23, 5:15 PM 

1 hours 6 minutes 

38% 

Los Angeles 

Bakersfield to Los Angeles via I-5 S 

Wednesday 12/27, 6:15 PM 

2 hours 41 minutes 

50% 

Minneapolis 

Eau Claire to Minneapolis via I-94 W 

Thursday 12/28, 10:15 AM 

2 hours 7 minutes  

62% 

New York 

New York to Hamptons via Long Island Expy E 

Saturday 12/23, 2:30 PM 

2 hours 8 minutes 

50% 

Portland 

Portland to Hood River via I-84 E 

Saturday 12/23, 5:45 PM 

1 hour 39 minutes 

40% 

San Diego 

San Diego to Palm Springs via I-15 N 

Saturday 12/23, 5:00 PM 

2 hours 50 minutes 

22% 

San Francisco 

San Francisco to Sacramento via I-80 E 

Saturday 12/23, 5:15 PM 

1 hour 49 minutes  

73% 

Seattle 

Seattle to Bellingham via I-5 N 

Wednesday 12/27, 6:45 PM 

2 hours 33 minutes  

47% 

Tampa 

Tampa to Orlando via I-4 E 

Tuesday 12/26, 4:15 PM 

2 hours 59 minutes  

58% 

Washington, DC 

Baltimore to Washington DC via Balt/Wash Pkwy S 

Friday 12/29, 3:45 PM 

1 hour 1 minute  

67% 

Airport Parking Tips

As for airport parking tips, AAA offers these:

  • Reserve a parking spot ahead of time to save time and money.   

  • Choose a well-lit, secure garage.   

  • On-site garages tend to be more expensive but offer convenience and peace of mind given their proximity to the terminals.   

  • If choosing off-site parking, look for reputable businesses like The Parking Spot which is securely fenced and offers a shuttle to the airport (AAA members get a discount).   

  • Opt for covered parking, if you live in an area expecting inclement weather.  

  • Remove valuables from your vehicle.   

  • Lock doors and roll up windows.  

  • Take a photo of your spot to remember where you parked.  

  • Keep your ticket – and receipt, if you prepaid – handy to show when exiting. 

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