AAA projects 42.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this Memorial Day weekend, a 7% increase over 2022. This year, 2.7 million more people will travel for the unofficial start of summer compared to last year, a sign of what’s to come in the months ahead.
“This summer travel season could be one for the record books, especially at airports,” said Mary Maguire, Vice President of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Northeast.
Nearly 3.4 million travelers are expected to fly to their destinations this Memorial Day, that’s an increase of 11% over last year. Air travel over the holiday weekend is projected to exceed pre-pandemic levels, with 170,000 more passengers – or 5.4% more – than in 2019. Despite high ticket prices, demand for flights is skyrocketing. This Memorial Day weekend could be the busiest at airports since 2005.
Memorial Day road trips are up 6% over last year. 37.1 million Americans will drive to their destinations, an increase of more than 2 million. Gas prices are lower this holiday compared to last year, when the national average was more than $4 a gallon. Despite the lower prices at the pump, car travel this holiday will be shy of pre-pandemic numbers by about 500,000 travelers.
More people this holiday are taking other modes of transportation, like buses and trains. These travelers are expected to total 1.85 million, an increase of 20.6% over 2022. For purposes of this forecast, the Memorial Day holiday travel period is defined as the five-day period from Thursday, May 25 to Monday, May 29. The five-day holiday length is consistent with previous holiday periods.
Best/Worst Times to Travel and Peak Congestion by Metro
INRIX, a provider of transportation data and insights, expects Friday, May 26 to be the busiest day on the roads during the long Memorial Day weekend. The best times to travel by car are in the morning or evening after 6 p.m. The lightest traffic days will be Saturday and Sunday. Major metro areas like Boston, New York, Seattle, and Tampa will likely see travel times double compared to normal.
“With lower fuel prices and more travelers on the road compared to last year, drivers should expect long delays this holiday weekend, especially in and around major metros as commuters mix with Memorial Day travelers,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic. Our advice is to avoid driving during peak hours or use alternative routes.”
AAA booking data for the Memorial Day weekend shows tourist hotspots like Orlando, New York City, and Las Vegas are top domestic destinations. Cruise port cities in Florida and Alaska, as well as Seattle, are high on the list given the 50% increase in domestic cruise bookings compared to last year. Other popular U.S. cities this Memorial Day include Denver, Boston, Anaheim, and Canton, Ohio – home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“We are seeing a demand for iconic cities, international vacation packages, and cruises with included amenities that provide more value for the price,” said Maguire.
Travelers are paying more for Memorial Day trips this year, in large part due to the rising cost of airline tickets. AAA booking data shows a 40% increase in airfare to this year’s Top Destinations. But that’s not stopping travelers from booking flights abroad. International travel is surging with bookings 250% higher this holiday weekend compared to 2022. European cities are the most popular, including Rome, Paris, Dublin, London, Barcelona, and Athens. International car rentals are up more than 80% over 2022. AAA reports strong sales for International Driving Permits this year, almost double what they were last year. The passport courier service RushMyPassport is also seeing an unprecedented number of applications for expedited passport and visa services this year.
The Best Time to Book for Summer
If travelers want their choice of options for their summer travels, now is the best time to book! AAA booking data shows demand is high this year, especially for international destinations. Waiting too long to book can result in limited inventory and sold-out cruises, tours, or direct flights.
For those who are flexible with travel dates and destinations, it’s worth noting AAA data from summer 2022 shows people who booked closer to departure paid less. Those travelers could find last-minute deals again this summer. But given higher demand this year, AAA advises booking summer vacations with plenty of time.
AAA’s message is not one of panic but of preparation. Here’s what travelers should know:
- Best time to book summer travel is now. Given high demand and reduced schedules, it’s worth booking as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the fewer options you have.
- Some airlines are reducing flights in key areas like New York City this summer to accommodate for air traffic controller shortages.
- Air prices are 20% to 30% higher this summer and could go up even more.
- When booking, aim for the first morning flight. It’s more likely to depart on time because mornings have less air traffic congestion and fewer weather delays, especially in the summer. Early flights also give you more flexibility if there is a delay or cancelation and you need to reschedule.
- Reserve airport parking ahead of time to save time on your departure day.
- With the TSA projecting pre-pandemic numbers this summer, it’s key to arrive at the airport at least two hours before domestic flights, three hours before international flights. Remember, international hubs will be extra packed with passengers this season.
- Sign up for TSA PreCheck or Clear to speed up the security process.
- Avoid checking a bag. Carry-on luggage allows you to be more flexible if there’s a delay or cancelation.
- Make sure your phone is fully charged. Download the airline’s app to receive notifications and use FlightAware to track your aircraft the day of departure.
- Know your passenger rights. Read the airline’s “Condition of Carriage” online to understand how you are protected in case of delays, cancelations and misconnections.
- Have your confirmation number or record locator handy, in case there’s a delay or cancelation and you need to rebook quickly.
- If you’re trying to reach the airline by phone, try their international numbers or rewards numbers, which can sometimes answer faster.
- Weather is an “Act of God” – not the fault of the airline – and travelers are on their own to rebook flights. An advantage of having a travel advisor is that they can help you with rebooking options.
- If a flight is canceled due to what is in the control of the airline, like a mechanical issue, the airline is responsible for rebooking passengers and providing some amenities, like food or lodging. For entitlements, see the DOT website.
Start making your summer travel plans with a AAA travel advisor.
Where are you headed this Memorial Day weekend? Tell us in the comments.