49 Million Americans Traveling This Thanksgiving

Paul Ausick

More Americans are expected to travel more than 50 miles from home to celebrate Thanksgiving this year than at any time since 2007. AAA and IHS Markit estimate that 48.7 million travelers will take to U.S. skies, highways and railways during five-day holiday period between Wednesday and Sunday.

By far the majority will travel by automobile: 43.5 million, compared with 3.69 million who are expected fly and another 2.44 million who will travel by bus or train. Gasoline prices, although currently about 10 cents a gallon more costly than last year, remain very low at around $2.15 per gallon a week before the peak holiday travel period.

AAA attributes the year-over-year increase of about 1 million travelers to improvements in the economy during the second half of the year, including rising wages, increased consumer spending and overall strength in consumer confidence. AAA also estimates that U.S. drivers have saved more than $28 billion so far at the pumps this year compared to the same period last year, so a Thanksgiving trip won’t break the bank.

Among the economic gains that make travel more affordable this year, AAA/IHS point out:

  • Consumers are expected to increase spending by 4.2 percent, well ahead of the 3.4 percent rise in personal income and the 2.3 percent increase in disposable income.
  • Real GDP is forecast to be just 1.6 percent above last year, while the unemployment rate is expected to fall to 4.9 percent, which is 0.1 point lower than this time last year.
  • Improvements in the housing market have moderated, but household net worth is rising more than five percent as the corporate and stock market improvements are outpacing debt growth.
  • While there are some mixed results from the consumer surveys, the current outlook remains strong across the board and will therefore contribute to the willingness of consumers to spend through the holiday period.

AAA also noted that travel by air will reach a 10-year high this year, the fifth consecutive year of growth in Thanksgiving holiday air travel.