For many Americans, the classic Christmas carol “I’ll be home for Christmas” will literally describe their plans for this holiday weekend, as most choose to party on the spot amid the ongoing pandemic.
Only about a quarter of people across the country will travel for Christmas and New Years, compared to about a third last year, and most of them will be more likely to drive than fly or take the train, industry sources say.
AAA predicts that by January 3, at least 29% fewer trips will be made than in the same period last year. While up to 84.5 million Americans are choosing to travel despite the current surge in Covid, that is at least 34 million fewer than in 2019, the organization said. For comparison, AAA estimates that Thanksgiving travel has decreased by as much as 15% in the past month.
“During the year-end vacation, Americans often venture into longer, more lavish vacations,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president at AAA Travel, in a statement. “That won’t be the case this year.”
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Twidale cited public health concerns, official government guidelines against travel and a general decline in consumer sentiment as factors driving many to stay home. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that travel could increase your chances of getting and spreading Covid-19 on their website.)
The consumer finance website ValuePenguin found that only 23% of 1,000 Americans surveyed planned to travel this coming weekend, compared to 32% who said they were traveling for Thanksgiving.
Guesty, a vacation property management software company, reported in mid-December that Christmas and New Years Eve bookings were still down 15% compared to 2019. (However, Guesty officials were optimistic that reservation rates could rise, or at least end up close by the end of the year.)
Americans who choose to travel in the next two weeks will likely do so by car. Road travel will account for 96% of vacation travel, according to the AAA, with 81 million Americans reaching the country’s highways. That would represent a year-over-year decrease of at least 25% – despite a shift towards cars and away from buses, planes and trains.
According to the AAA, car journeys will replace other modes of travel thanks to “the flexibility, security and convenience that car travel offers”. However, ValuePenguin found in its survey that 7% of those who travel during the December vacation will actually fly, an increase from the 3% who planned to do so for Thanksgiving. This may be due to cheaper airfares: AAA reports double-digit drops in average airfares.
The drivers will also save money on refilling their tanks this year. Gasoline prices are 33 cents per gallon cheaper than in 2019. However, some of these savings will burn off in traffic. AAA warns road drivers of around 20% more congestion on the country’s highways and secondary roads.
Where intrepid travelers are headed
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Traveling but not staying with friends or family? You may find some savings in housing in your stocking. Guesty found that the average nightly rate for New Year’s reservations had gone down that month and was the same as it was in 2019. This is likely due to the fact that hosts are lowering prices to encourage bookings as they are generally reluctant to travel.
And where are die-hard vacationers for Christmas and New Years? Amadeus Global Reservation System has determined that the top five US travel destinations with hotel occupancy rates of 50% or more are:
- Vail, Colorado
- Key West, Florida
- Sedona, Arizona
- Aspen, Colorado
- Fort Myers, Florida