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Nearly 44 Million Travelers Leaving Town for Unofficial Start of Summer

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WASHINGTON, DC (May 13, 2024) – AAA projects 43.8 million travelers will head 50 miles or more from home over the Memorial Day holiday travel period*. This year’s total number of travelers is a 4% increase over last year and comes close to matching 2005’s record of 44 million Memorial Day travelers. 

“We haven’t seen Memorial Day weekend travel numbers like these in almost 20 years,” said Paula Twidale, Senior Vice President of AAA Travel. “We’re projecting an additional one million travelers this holiday weekend compared to 2019, which not only means we’re exceeding pre-pandemic levels but also signals a very busy summer travel season ahead.”  

Road trips are expected to set a record. AAA projects 38.4 million people will travel by car over Memorial Day weekend, the highest number for that holiday since AAA began tracking in 2000. The number of drivers this year is up 4% compared to last year and 1.9% higher than in 2019. Traveling by car is appealing for many people because of the convenience and flexibility it provides. AAA car rental partner Hertz says Orlando, Denver, Atlanta, Boston and Las Vegas are the cities displaying the highest rental demand, with the busiest pick-up days projected to be Thursday, May 23 and Friday, May 24. 

This Memorial Day weekend drivers can expect similar gas prices as last year when the national average was roughly $3.57.  Pump prices rose this spring but have held somewhat steady in recent weeks. Prices may creep higher as the summer driving season gets underway. The wildcard remains the cost of oil, and unlike last year, there are now two wars – in the Middle East and Ukraine – that could roil the oil market. 

Airports are bracing for a spike in travelers. AAA expects 3.51 million air travelers this holiday weekend, an increase of 4.8% over last year and 9% jump compared to 2019. This will be the most crowded Memorial Day weekend at airports since 2005, when 3.64 million flew for the holiday as the travel industry finally rebounded post 9/11. This Memorial Day weekend, air ticket prices are comparable to last year. AAA booking data shows a 1% to 2% increase in prices for domestic flights. Several factors play into how much travelers pay for airfare, including destination, number of stops, and fare class. For example, passengers who book nonstop flights with seat selection and carry-on bags included will likely pay more than those who select basic economy with a layover. 

 Nearly two million people are expected to travel by other modes of transportation, including buses, cruises, and trains. AAA projects 1.9 million people will take these other modes of transportation, an increase of 5.6% compared to last year. “This category took the biggest hit during the pandemic with fewer people taking public transportation or not cruising at all,” Twidale said. “Now – five years later – we’re back to 2019 numbers. Travel demand has been soaring, and long holiday weekends create the perfect windows for getaways.” 

Best/Worst Times to Drive and Peak Congestion by Metro 

INRIX, a provider of transportation data and insights, says drivers leaving Thursday or Friday should hit the road early to avoid mixing with commuters. Travelers going back home on Sunday or Monday should avoid the afternoon hours when return trips will peak.  

“Travel times are expected to be up to 90% longer than normal. Travelers should stay up to date on traffic apps, 511 services, and local news stations to avoid sitting in traffic longer than necessary,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX. 

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

Best and Worst Times to Travel by Car 
Date  Worst Travel Time  Best Travel Time 
Thursday, May 23  12:00 – 6: 00 PM  Before 11 AM, After 7PM 
Friday, May 24  12:00 – 7:00 PM  Before 11AM, After 8 PM 
Saturday, May 25  2:00 – 5:00 PM  Before 1 PM, After 6 PM 
Sunday, May 26  3:00 – 7:00 PM  Before 1 PM 
Monday, May 27  3:00 – 7:00 PM  After 7 PM 

Source: INRIX  

Peak Congestion by Metro 
Metro  Route  Peak Congestion Period  Est. Travel Time  Increase Compared to Typical 
Atlanta  Atlanta to Savannah via I-16 E  Saturday 4:45 PM  5 hours 31 minutes  54% 
Boston  Manchester to Boston via I-93 S  Sunday 8:45 AM  1 hour 48 minutes   50% 
Chicago  Milwaukee to Chicago via I-94 E  Sunday 4:30 PM  2 hours 25 minutes  27% 
Denver  Fort Collins to Denver via I-25 S  Sunday 4:15 PM  1 hours 24 minutes  56% 
Detroit  Kalamazoo to Detroit via I-94 E  Sunday 8:45 PM  2 hours 48 minutes  40% 
Houston  Galveston to Houston via I-45 N  Sunday 5:00PM  1 hours 11 minutes  73% 
Los Angeles  LA to Bakersfield via I-5 N  Thursday 6:15 PM  2 hours 45 minutes  84% 
Minneapolis 

Eau Claire to Minneapolis via  

I-94 W 

Monday 8:45 AM  1 hour 47 minutes   38% 
New York  New York to Albany via I-87N  Thursday 11:45 AM  2 hours 37 minutes  64% 
Philadelphia  Philadelphia to Baltimore/DC via I-95  Friday 7:30 AM  2 hours 1 minute  43% 
Portland 

Hood River to Portland via  

I-84 W 

Monday 6:30 PM  1 hour 20 minutes  42% 
San Diego 

San Diego to Palm Springs via  

I-15 N 

Friday 6:15 PM  3 hours 4 minutes   34% 
San Francisco  San Francisco to Napa via I-80 E  Friday 11:00 AM  1 hour 25 minutes   56% 
Seattle  Ellensburg to Seattle via I-90 E  Sunday 4:30 PM  2 hours 34 minutes  58% 
Tampa  Gainesville to Tampa via I-75 S  Sunday 9:00 AM  3 hours 47 minutes  88% 
Washington, DC  Washington, DC to Baltimore via Balt/Wash Pkwy N  Friday 2:15 PM  1 hour 21 minutes   72% 

Source: INRIX 

Top Destinations 

This Memorial Day weekend, travelers are seeking theme parks and entertainment venues in Orlando, New York, Las Vegas, and Southern California. Seattle, Anchorage, and Vancouver rank high because of the popularity of Alaska cruises this time of year. Florida beaches and cruise ports will also be packed. European cities dominate the international list. The top 10 domestic and international destinations below are based on AAA booking data. 

DOMESTIC  INTERNATIONAL 
Orlando, FL  Rome, Italy 
Seattle, WA  Vancouver, B.C., Canada 
New York, NY  London, England 
Las Vegas, NV  Paris, France 
Anaheim/Los Angeles, CA  Dublin, Ireland 
Denver, CO   Amsterdam, Netherlands 
Anchorage, AK  Athens, Greece  
Fort Lauderdale, FL  Barcelona, Spain 
Miami, FL  St. George, Bermuda 
Boston, MA  Edinburgh, Scotland 

Travel Trends   

As travelers make plans for summer and beyond, AAA Travel has identified the following trends: 

  • Bucket Lists: Travelers taking once-in-a-lifetime trips 
  • Milestones: Families booking anniversary, retirement, and family reunion trips 
  • Asia: More travelers interested in visiting Asia, especially Japan  
  • Solo Trips: More people, especially women, interested in traveling by themselves 
  • Luxury Vacations: More travelers seeking high-end cruises and tours 
  • Trains: Many travelers interested in rail vacations across New England, Canada, and Europe 
  • Adventure in Nature: Travelers booking trips to Antarctica, Africa, and South Pacific 

 Travel Agent Survey  

A recent survey of AAA travel agents highlights topics travelers are frequently discussing when booking trips: 

  • Travel Insurance: 51 % of agents say more travelers are interested in protecting their trips 
  • Types of Vacations: AAA travel agents say these are among the types of vacations travelers are most interested in: 
    • 77% of agents say ocean cruises 
    • 70% of agents say all-inclusive vacations 
    • 67% of agents say river cruises 

Holiday Travel Forecast Methodology   

In cooperation with AAA, S&P Global Market Intelligence (SPGMI) developed a unique methodology to forecast actual domestic travel volumes. The economic variables used to forecast travel for the current holiday are leveraged from SPGMI’s proprietary databases. These data include macroeconomic drivers such as employment, output, household net worth, asset prices, including stock indices, interest rates, housing market indicators, and variables related to travel and tourism, including gasoline prices, airline travel, and hotel stays. AAA and SPGMI have quantified holiday travel volumes going back to 2000.  

Historical travel volume estimates come from DK SHIFFLET’s TRAVEL PERFORMANCE/MonitorSM. The PERFORMANCE/MonitorSM is a comprehensive study measuring the travel behavior of U.S. residents. DK SHIFFLET contacts over 50,000 U.S. households each month to obtain detailed travel data, resulting in the unique ability to estimate visitor volume and spending, identify trends, and forecast U.S. travel behavior, all after the trips have been taken. 

The travel forecast is reported in person-trips. In particular, AAA and SPGMI forecast the total U.S. holiday travel volume and expected mode of transportation. The travel forecast presented in this report was prepared the week of April 15, 2024.  

*Memorial Day Holiday Travel Period  

For this forecast, the Memorial Day holiday travel period is defined as the five-day period from Thursday, May 23 to Monday, May 27, 2024.  

AAA Travel Agent Survey Methodology 

AAA clubs distributed surveys to a random sample of their travel agents between March 18 and March 29, 2024 to understand recent traveler trends over the past 60 days. 186 AAA agent responses were collected from 13 AAA clubs (representing 97% of AAA membership overall as of February 2024). 

About AAA 

Started in 1902 by automotive enthusiasts who wanted to chart a path for better roads in America and advocate for safe mobility, AAA has transformed into one of North America’s largest membership organizations. Today, AAA provides roadside assistance, travel, discounts, financial and insurance services to enhance the life journey of 64 million members across North America, including 57 million in the United States. To learn more about all AAA has to offer or to become a member, visit AAA.com.  

About S&P Global
S&P Global (NYSE: SPGI) provides essential intelligence. We enable governments, businesses, and individuals with the right data, expertise, and connected technology so that they can make decisions with conviction. From helping our customers assess new investments to guiding them through ESG and energy transition across supply chains, we unlock new opportunities, solve challenges, and accelerate progress for the world. We are widely sought after by many of the world’s leading organizations to provide credit ratings, benchmarks, analytics, and workflow solutions in the global capital, commodity, and automotive markets. With every one of our offerings, we help the world’s leading organizations plan for tomorrow today. For more information, visit www.spglobal.com.  

About DKSA 

DK SHIFFLET boasts the industry’s most complete database on U.S. resident travel both in the U.S. and worldwide. Data is collected monthly from a U.S. representative sample, adding over 60,000 traveling households annually, and is used daily by leading travel organizations and their strategic planning groups. DK SHIFFLET is an MMGY Global company.  

About INRIX    

Founded in 2004, INRIX pioneered intelligent mobility solutions by transforming big data from connected devices and vehicles into mobility insights. This revolutionary approach enabled INRIX to become one of the leading providers of data and analytics into how people move. By empowering cities, businesses, and people with valuable insights, INRIX is helping to make the world smarter, safer, and greener. With partners and solutions spanning across the entire mobility ecosystem, INRIX is uniquely positioned at the intersection of technology and transportation – whether it’s keeping road users safe, improving traffic signal timing to reduce delay and greenhouse gasses, optimizing last mile delivery, or helping uncover market insights. Learn more at INRIX.com.  

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