Planning your Thanksgiving: When’s the best time to fly?
With Thanksgiving fast approaching, many of us suddenly realize we either didn’t plan ahead or have no choice but to travel along with the masses to see our friends and family.
While some families are planning local turkey trots and enjoying big dinners at home, the Thanksgiving travel forecast shows an increase in those who will not be home for the holidays.
According to AAA predictions, over 55 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles or more for Thanksgiving holiday plans this year. The total number of families planning travel this season has increased by 2.3% and will make this holiday season the third busiest travel season since this data began to be measured by AAA in 2000.
“Many Americans look forward to traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday so they can spend time with family and friends,” said Bevi Powell, senior vice president of AAA East Central. “This year’s forecast shows even more people are planning to get away whether it’s by car, plane or taking a dream cruise with loved ones.”
In the mid-Atlantic region, which covers communities located in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, over 6.8 million travelers are expected to travel for their holiday plans from Wednesday, Nov. 22, to Sunday, Nov. 26. Travel in this region has seen a larger increase than the national average, with 2.7% more residents planning to hit the roads and skies for Thanksgiving in 2023.
Most Thanksgiving travelers are expected to use cars this holiday, with 6 million travelers forecasted to fill roads across the mid-Atlantic region. Across the country, 49 million Americans are also expected to travel by car. The increase in vehicle traffic may be helped by lower gas prices, with the national average ($3.58) being 29 cents cheaper than last Thanksgiving.
Air travel shows continued success, with 650,000 local travelers expected to travel through the skies this holiday and 4.7 million people utilizing airports throughout the week. The United States has seen a 6.6% increase in air travel during this time, despite the two days before Thanksgiving being the most expensive for ticket prices and typically the busiest time at airports.
How busy will traffic be during Thanksgiving travel?
Motorists should plan for some delays if they travel near cities on Thanksgiving due to the large number of cars expected this holiday.
While many rural roads in the region aren’t likely to see major delays, traffic insights from INRIX anticipate that popular roads and highways will start to see delays on Wednesday as families gather. For metro areas, travel time may increase by nearly 80% as motorists begin filling the roads on one of the year’s busiest days.
“The day before Thanksgiving is notoriously one of the most congested days on our roadways. Travelers should be prepared for long delays, especially in and around major metros,” said Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst at INRIX. “Knowing when and where congestion will build can help minimize holiday traffic frustrations. We advise drivers to use traffic apps, local DOT notifications, and 511 services for real-time updates.”
With an 11.44% increase in traffic on Wednesday, the best time for motorists to avoid the worst rush is before 11 a.m. or after 6 p.m. for the least congestion. On Thanksgiving, the worst times to travel are from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and a similar schedule can be followed. On Friday, Nov. 24, analysts say that motorists will see the worst times between noon and 4 p.m., but Black Friday deals may have more tired drivers on the road than usual.
Weekend travel will typically see peak traffic between 3 and 5 p.m., so motorists should consider planning for time-sensitive travel before noon on Saturday and Sunday.
What are the top destinations for vacations?
While many families plan to travel to visit relatives over the holiday, Thanksgiving vacations remain a popular tradition for many across the country.
For domestic travel, many destinations include theme parks, tourist attractions or cruise ports. Top flights this year will include Florida, with several spots in Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Miami drawing those from chilly spots in the north to the sunshine. Other popular locations include New York, Las Vegas, San Diego and several destinations in Hawaii.
International travel destinations with warmer weather are also drawing in travelers, with Cancun and Mexico City being popular spots in Americans’ travel plans. Punta Cana, Bahrain, Rome, and Montego Bay are some of the top spots for travelers during this year’s Thanksgiving break.
What are travel prices like right now?
Travelers are generally paying less for their vacation expenses this year, but airfare will still be a big deterrent from vacation planning as ticket prices continue to climb.
For flights in November and December, the average price for domestic flights is $681, which is 5% higher than last year. International flights are 5.7% cheaper but still cost an average of $1,231 and can be a major expense when planning for destinations. While domestic flights are generally higher this time of year, the increased prices may keep some travelers at home or on the road during upcoming Christmas travel.
One benefit is lower prices on other domestic travel expenses, with hotels averaging 12% lower and averaging $598 for customers. Domestic car rentals are also 20% lower than last year, with an average cost of $590. Once at these domestic locations, tours are also 15% lower and cost an average of $1,058 for guided experiences.
Domestic cruises are slightly cheaper this year, down 12% and averaging $1,507 for tickets, but international tours have seen an increase in prices of 24% and can cost travelers an average of $2,902. These international experiences can be costly, as tours have seen an increase of 21% to an average of $1,208 and hotels are 5% more expensive, with an average cost of $772 for stays. Rental cars can also add another strain to wallets, with a 9% price increase bringing the average to $696 for customers.