For many Americans, the classic Christmas carol "I'll be home for Christmas" will literally describe their plans for this holiday weekend as most choose to party on the spot amid the ongoing pandemic.
Only about a quarter of people across the country will travel for Christmas and New Years, compared with about a third last year, and most of them will be more likely to drive than fly or take the train, industry sources say.
AAA predicts that by January 3, at least 29% fewer trips will be made than in the same period last year. While up to 84.5 million Americans are choosing to travel despite the current surge in Covid, that is at least 34 million fewer than in 2019, the organization said. By comparison, AAA estimates Thanksgiving trips have decreased by up to 15% in the last month.
"During the year-end vacation, Americans often venture into longer, more lavish vacations," said Paula Twidale, senior vice president at AAA Travel, in a statement. "That won't be the case this year."
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Twidale cited public health concerns, official government guidelines against travel, and an overall decline in consumer sentiment as factors driving many to stay home. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that travel could increase your chance of getting and spreading Covid-19 on their website.)
Consumer finance website ValuePenguin found that only 23% of 1,000 Americans polled planned to travel this coming weekend, compared to 32% who said they were traveling for Thanksgiving.
Vacation property management software company Guesty reported in mid-December that bookings for accommodations for both Christmas and New Year's Eve were still 15% down on 2019. (However, Guesty officials were optimistic that reservation rates could potentially increase, or at least end up close, by the end of the year.)
Americans who choose to travel in the next two weeks will likely do so by car. Road travel will account for 96% of vacation travel, according to the AAA, with 81 million Americans reaching the country's highways. That would represent a year-over-year decrease of at least 25% – despite a shift towards cars and away from buses, planes and trains.
According to the AAA, car journeys will replace other travel modes thanks to "the flexibility, safety and convenience that car travel offers". However, ValuePenguin found in its survey that 7% of those who travel during the December vacation will actually fly, up from the 3% who planned to do so for Thanksgiving. This may be due to cheaper airfares: AAA reports double-digit drops in average airfares.
Drivers will also save money on refilling their tanks this year. Gasoline prices are 33 cents per gallon cheaper than in 2019. However, some of these savings will burn off in traffic. AAA warns road drivers of around 20% more congestion on the country's highways and secondary roads.
Where intrepid travelers go
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Traveling but not staying with friends or family? You may find some savings in housing in your stocking. Guesty found that the average nightly rate for New Year's reservations had gone down that month and was the same as it was in 2019. This is likely because hosts are lowering prices to encourage bookings as they are generally reluctant to travel.
And where are die-hard vacationers for Christmas and New Years? Amadeus Global Reservation System has determined that the top five US travel destinations with hotel occupancy rates of 50% or more are:
Vail, ColoradoKey West, FloridaSedona, ArizonaAspen, ColoradoFort Myers, Florida