This year’s Thanksgiving travel may be one of the busiest on record, AAA says

Nov 14, 2023, 10:11 AM | Updated: 10:28 am

Vehicles travel on I-15 in Salt Lake City on June 16....

Vehicles travel on I-15 in Salt Lake City on June 16. (Kristin Murphy/ Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy/ Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — More than 55 million Americans are expected to travel for Thanksgiving next week, which would mark “one of the busiest travel periods on record” should it come to fruition, AAA officials said Monday.

Most Americans — about 49.1 million in total — are projected to drive at least 50 miles during the holiday weekend, spanning from Nov. 22 to Nov. 26. Nearly another 4.7 million people will fly and the rest will use some other form of transportation, according to the annual travel forecast.

The projections would be a 2.3% rise from last year’s holiday travel, only a 1.1% decrease from numbers collected in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic decimated the travel industry. That said, AAA says the estimate means that 2023 would be the third-busiest Thanksgiving since 2000, behind 2005 and 2019.

Paula Twidale, the association’s senior vice president of travel, said Monday that travel demand has been “strong all year” and this Thanksgiving projections reflect that ongoing trend.

“For many Americans, Thanksgiving and travel go hand in hand, and this holiday, we expect more people on the roads, skies, and seas compared to 2022,” she said in a statement.

While Utah is not included in any of the top domestic travel locations this year, Brian Ng, senior vice president of membership and travel marketing for AAA Utah, said the Beehive State is no exception in having the itch to travel this year.

“Travel demand has truly bounced back to pre-pandemic levels,” he said in a statement. “Our holiday travel projections show the yearlong trend of Utahns’ eagerness to get away and create memories with family and friends.”

AAA officials add in the travel outlook that 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Nov. 22, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, will likely be the busiest time to be out on the roads. They recommend people begin traveling before 11 a.m. that day, if possible.

This could be true for Utah, as well. The Utah Department of Transportation typically releases its busiest times to drive closer to the holiday, but the agency warned that the largest congestion delays would fall in the afternoon before the holiday.

According to AAA, other good times to drive are:

  • Before 10 a.m. and after 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day
  • Before 11 a.m. and after 7 p.m. on Black Friday
  • Before noon on the Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving

The outlook doesn’t list any projections for when the busiest times to fly are. Much like UDOT, Salt Lake City International Airport officials typically release their busiest travel times a few days before the holiday.

Meanwhile, Twidale said that many cruises are already sold out for Thanksgiving, which she said is an indication of the “remarkable comeback” that the cruise industry is experiencing at the moment.

AAA also lists variations in expenses that could explain some of the increase in travel demand this Thanksgiving.

It reports that the average price for a gallon of regular gas nationwide is currently down 11% from last year, while the average price for a hotel in the U.S. is down 12% — the same goes for cruises. Rental car reservation costs are down about 20% from 2022, as well. The average cost of a domestic flight is up 5% from last Thanksgiving, but the average international flight ticket is down nearly 6%.

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This year’s Thanksgiving travel may be one of the busiest on record, AAA says