Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday season and, most often, the busiest time to travel, but this year might bring crowds to a new level.
More than 55 million travelers are making plans to kick off the holidays with a trip of 50 miles or more away from home, according to AAA. This marks an increase of 1.6 million more travelers than last year, and the second-highest Thanksgiving travel volume since the record set in 2005.
Air travel will see the biggest increase in travel volume during the Thanksgiving holiday, with 4.45 million Americans expected to fly, and increase of 4.6% over last year. While those taking trains, buses and cruise ships will reach 1.49 million, a slight increase of 1.4% from 2018.
But by far the most holiday travelers will be hitting the roads, with 49.3 million travelers expected to drive this Thanksgiving, the most since 2005 and 2.8% more than last year.
AAA predicts major delays throughout the week, but expects Wednesday afternoon to be the worst travel period nationally, with trips taking as much four times longer as commuters mix with travelers.
“With record levels of travelers, and persistent population growth in the country’s major metropolitan areas, drivers must prepare for major delays,” said Trevor Reed, transportation analyst for INRIX, a global transportation analytics company that AAA has partnered with to design a holiday travel guide. “Although travel times will peak on Wednesday afternoon nationally, travelers should expect much heavier than normal congestion throughout the week.”
A recent analysis of AAA’s flight booking data from the last three years revealed that flying the Monday before the Thanksgiving travel rush is the best option for air travelers. It has the lowest average ticket price ($486) prior to the holiday, and is a generally lighter travel day than later in the week. Travelers can also save by traveling on Thanksgiving Day, which has the week’s lowest average price per ticket ($454).