AAA: Memorial Day holiday travel to rebound to more than 37 million

AAA Travel expects a significant rebound in the number of Americans planning to travel this Memorial Day holiday weekend. From May 27 through May 31, more than 37 million people are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home, an increase of 60% from last year when only 23 million traveled, the lowest on record since AAA began recording in 2000.

The expected strong increase in demand from last year’s holiday, which fell during the early phase of the pandemic, still represents 13%—or nearly six million—fewer travelers than in 2019. AAA urges those who choose to travel this year to exercise caution and take measures to protect themselves and others as the pandemic continues.

“As more people get the COVID-19 vaccine and consumer confidence grows, Americans are demonstrating a strong desire to travel this Memorial Day,” said Paula Twidale, SVP, AAA Travel. “This pent-up demand will result in a significant increase in Memorial Day travel, which is a strong indicator for summer, though we must all remember to continue taking important safety precautions.”

AAA notes that the actual number of holiday travelers could fluctuate as we approach Memorial Day. If there is an increase in reported cases attributed to new COVID-19 variants, some people may decide to stay home, while others may note the strong progress in vaccinations and make last-minute decisions to travel.

Another factor contributing to the expected increase in travel this holiday is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recently updated guidance that fully vaccinated people can travel domestically at low risk to themselves, while taking proper precautions. It’s important to keep in mind that some local and state travel restrictions may still remain in place, however.

For travelers who are not vaccinated but choose to travel, CDC recommends that you practice social distancing, wear a mask, wash your hands and get tested before and after travel. Whether you are vaccinated or not, remember masks are required on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.

AAA Travel has noted significant recent increases in online traffic and bookings on AAA.com, particularly for hotels and car rentals, heading into the summer travel season. AAA booking data reveal that domestic travel and road trips remain the biggest drivers of travel recovery in the near term. Orlando and Las Vegas are top Memorial Day destinations this year, both for AAA Travel bookings and TripTik road trip searches. Other top destinations include the following:

Road Trips:

  1. Las Vegas
  2. Orlando, FL
  3. Myrtle Beach, SC
  4. Denver
  5. Nashville, TN

AAA Travel Bookings:

  1. Orlando, FL
  2. Las Vegas
  3. Honolulu
  4. Anchorage, AK
  5. Colorado Springs, CO

Huge increase in air travel expected, but most Memorial Day travelers to take road trips

With 34 million Americans planning Memorial Day road trips, auto travel is expected to increase 52% compared to 2020. Nearly 12 million more Americans will travel by car this holiday than in 2020, though this is still 9% less than in 2019. More than nine in 10 Memorial Day travelers will drive to their destinations, as many Americans continue to substitute road trips for travel via planes, trains and other modes of transportation.

After a historically low year of air travel in 2020, this Memorial Day will see nearly 2.5 million Americans boarding airplanes, nearly six times more than last year (+577%). Still, 750,000 fewer people will take to the skies this holiday compared to 2019. AAA reminds air travelers that masks are required in all airports and on flights.

Meanwhile, just 237,000 Americans are expected to travel by other modes, including bus and train, this Memorial Day. This is the second-lowest volume on record, higher only than the 185,000 who traveled in 2020. In 2021, travel via these modes will be 88% below 2019 levels.

2021 Memorial Day Holiday Travelers
Total Automobile Air Other

(Bus, Train, Cruise)

2021 (Forecast) 37.1M 34.4M 2.5M 237,000
2020 (Actual)* 23.1M 22.6M 363,000 185,000
2019 (Actual) 42.8M 37.6M 3.2M 1.9M
Change (2019 to 2021) −13.3% −8.7% −23.4% −87.5%
Change (2020 to 2021) +60% +52.4% +577.5% +28.0%

*AAA did not issue a Memorial Day holiday travel forecast in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, actual travel volumes were recorded after the holiday for comparison purposes this year.

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