COLUMBUS — AAA expects more than one-third of Americans (nearly 40 percent of Ohioans) will travel this holiday season. The record-breaking 112.5 million American travelers (4.6 million Ohio travelers) represents a 4.4 percent increase over last year, and the most since AAA began tracking holiday travel.
“Strong economic growth fueled by robust consumer spending continues to drive strong demand for seasonal travel,” said Bryan Shilling, managing director, AAA Travel products and services. “With a record-breaking one-third of the country choosing to travel this holiday, roadways and airports are sure to be busy.”
The year-end holiday travel period is technically defined as Saturday, Dec. 22 through Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. The 11-day span is one-day longer than last year, due to Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on Tuesdays this year.
Modes of Transportation
Automobiles: More travelers will travel by car this holiday season than ever before. About 91 percent of holiday travelers will drive to their holiday destination. With added traffic, AAA expects to assist 960,000 motorists across the country this year-end holiday with dead batteries, flat tires, lockouts and more.
Planes: The 6.7 million Americans (247,100 Ohioans) who will travel by air this year mark the highest holiday air travel volume in 15 years. Air travel is up 4.2 percent (4 percent in Ohio) since last year.
Busiest Travel Times
For this year’s holiday travel forecast, AAA partnered with INRIX, a global mobility analytics company, to analyze the best and worst times to travel.
An analysis of AAA’s flight booking data from the last three years shows most holiday air travelers depart two or three days before Christmas and return the day after the holiday. This holiday season, Saturday, Dec. 22, Sunday, Dec. 23 and Wednesday, Dec. 26 will be the busiest days at the airports. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day will be the lightest air travel days.
Navigating Holiday Travel
Traveling during the holidays can be stressful. AAA offers the following advice to holiday travelers:
Pack Your Patience: This goes for other travelers and family members. Keep a good attitude and expect the unexpected.
Charge-up: Have portable chargers ready for the car and airport. Keeping your phone in airplane mode whenever possible will help save your battery life if you forget your charger.
Select your travel time carefully: Traveling early morning or late evening can help avoid crowds. When flying, arrive extra early to the airport to avoid long security lines.
Prepare for inclement weather: Be prepared for delays with snacks, water, blankets, travel games, extra clothes, a first aid kit, a flashlight and extra batteries. Plan your road trip ahead of time and have alternative routing options, just in case. Keep AAA maps in your car, in case inclement weather disrupts cell service.
Gas Price Savings
Lower gas prices, combined with rising disposable income, helped motivate travelers to plan holiday road trips. After hitting a high of $2.96 before Memorial Day, Ohio’s average gas price fell to a 2018 low of $2.10 on Dec. 4. This was the lowest gas price average the state had seen since July 4, 2017.
To help travelers save even more at the pump, AAA has partnered with Shell to launch the new Fuel Rewards program. Through the end of 2019, AAA members that register at AAA.com/Shell save up to five cents per gallon (on up to 20 gallons), when filling up at participating Shell branded stations across the U.S. Members that register for the first time by Jan. 31, 2019 will save 25 cents per gallon (on up to 20 gallons) on their first fill-up.
Holiday Travel Costs
While gas prices are low, holiday road trippers should budget slightly more for a rental car this year, as daily rates have increased 3 percent over last year. At $76, the average daily car rental rate this holiday season is the most expensive in 10 years.
Travelers will also pay a bit more at AAA Two Diamond hotels, where prices are up 1 percent from last year to an average of $122 per night. Conversely, the average rate for AAA Three Diamond hotels has fallen 3 percent to an average of $152 per night.
Most holiday air travelers booked their Christmas flights between Oct. 26 and Nov. 27, paying an average ticket price of $561 roundtrip. Last-minute planners who book between Dec. 12 and Dec. 18 can expect to pay an average of $488 roundtrip. However, those travelers risk encountering limited availability and their preferred flights may already be sold out.
Kimberly Schwind is a senior public relations manager at AAA Ohio.