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AAA Predicts Travelers Break Holiday Records

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Dec. 20, 2019—More Americans than ever on record—115.6 million—will travel this holiday season, from Saturday, Dec. 21 through Wednesday, Jan. 1. That is the most in nearly 20 years since AAA began tracking in 2000, and represents an increase of 3.9 percent over last year, or 4.3 million more people packing up their sleighs for a holiday getaway.

More than 104 million of those holiday travelers will drive to their destinations and, INRIX, a global transportation analytics company, expects delays to be the worst on Thursday, Dec. 26, with afternoon delays reaching nearly double congestion-free drive times in major U.S. cities.

“Holiday cheer is at an all-time high this year, with unemployment at historically low levels, and noted improvements in both disposable income and household net worth,” said Paula Twidale, vice president, AAA Travel. “Travelers should be getting used to crowded highways and airports, as this marks the eighth straight year of new record-high travel volumes for the year-end holidays.”

104.8 million Americans, the most on record, will drive to their holiday destinations. That means 3.9 million more people are expected on the roads compared with last year, for an increase of 3.9 percent.

For the 104.8 million Americans traveling by automobile, INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts only marginal delays throughout the holiday week. Nationally, drivers could experience double the travel times on Thursday and Friday afternoon, although New York City and Washington, D.C. could see triple the delays.

“With kids out of school and many Americans taking extended time off for the holidays, drivers will experience only incremental delays throughout the week. Although congestion will be lighter than normal, knowing when and where major delays will likely happen will help save time and reduce stress this holiday season,” says Trevor Reed, a transportation analyst at INRIX.

City Worst Day to Travel Peak Congestion Delay Multiplier
Atlanta Thursday, Dec. 26 4:30 – 6:30 p.m. 1.3X
Boston Friday, Dec. 27 4:00 – 6:00 p.m 1.5X
Chicago Thursday, Dec. 26 4:45 – 6:45 p.m. 1.3X
Detroit Thursday, Dec. 26 4:30 – 6:30 p.m. 1.4X
Houston Friday, Dec. 27 4:30 – 6:30 p.m. 1.8X
Los Angeles Thursday, Dec. 26 4:25 – 6:25 p.m. 1.6X
New York City Thursday, Dec. 26 4:15 – 6:15 p.m. 2.7X
San Francisco Thursday, Dec. 26 4:00 – 6:00 p.m 2.0X
Seattle Friday, Dec. 27 4:15 – 6:15 p.m. 1.2X
Washington D.C. Thursday, Dec. 26 4:00 – 6:00 p.m 3.0X

Source: INRIX

On top of this, more than 853,000 motorists will call AAA for assistance at the roadside this holiday season. Dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts will be the leading reasons AAA members will experience car trouble. AAA recommends motorists take their vehicles to a trusted repair facility to perform any needed maintenance before heading out on a road trip. And remember to slow down and move over for stopped emergency vehicles at the roadside. It’s the law in all 50 states.

AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Markit, a London-based business information provider. For the purposes of this forecast, the year-end holiday travel period is defined as the 12-day period from Saturday, Dec. 21 to Wednesday, Jan. 1.

In cooperation with AAA, IHS Markit developed a unique methodology to forecast actual domestic travel volumes, using macroeconomic drivers such as employment; output; household net worth; asset prices including stock indices; interest rates; housing market indicators and variables related to travel and tourism, including prices of gasoline, airline travel and hotel stays.

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