May 15, 2024

Nearly 44 Million U.S. Travelers Leaving Town for Unofficial Start of Summer

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.”

Memorial Day Travel Forecast

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    

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.

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

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