Number of Thanksgiving Travelers Will Hit 54 Million, Most Since 2005

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The number of people who will travel over the Thanksgiving weekend is forecast to reach 54.3 million, the highest number in 13 years. The estimate is based on people who will travel between Wednesday, Nov. 21 to Sunday, Nov. 25, and who will go more than 50 miles from home. It is the highest number since 2005, just before the Great Recession.

The AAA commissioned analytics firm INRIX to compile the numbers and also to look at peak driving and airport travel times by major city. The research also shows the top destinations for travelers.

The 54 million traveler number is up 4.8% from last year. The AAA attributes most of the increase to the strengthening economy. Bill Sutherland, AAA Travel senior vice president, points out:

Consumers have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season: higher wages, more disposable income, and rising levels of household wealth. This is translating into more travelers kicking off the holiday season with a Thanksgiving getaway, building on a positive year for the travel industry.

Those traveling will journey by car, plane, train, bus and cruise ship. INRIX forecasts this will break out to 48.5 million who will travel by car, up 5% from 2017. It expects 4.27 million people will travel by plane, up 5.4% from last year. Travel by trains, buses and cruise ships is forecast to reach 1.48 million passengers, up 1.4% from 2017.

Drivers in several large cities will hit traffic jams. INRIX expects evening computes over the period to surge as much as fourfold over normal times in San Francisco, New York City and Boston. Trevor Reed, transportation analyst at INRIX, cautioned: “Our advice to drivers is to avoid commuting times in major cities altogether or plan alternative routes.” In most cities, the worst auto traveling day will be Sunday.

Driving times to airports will spike in several big cities. Worst among these will be Denver, Dallas, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Seattle and Chicago.

The AAA also forecast the top 10 cities that will be travel destinations based on the number of visitors:

  1. Orlando, Florida
  2. New York, New York
  3. Anaheim, California
  4. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
  5. Las Vegas, Nevada
  6. Cancun, Mexico
  7. Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas
  8. Honolulu, Hawaii
  9. Washington, D.C.
  10. Miami, Florida
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