Most Americans staying home for Christmas

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BUFFALO — At least 34 million fewer Americans are expected to travel this holiday season with 75% of people expected to stay put at home for Christmas, according to research by AAA.

AAA’s travel division reports that the vast majority of Americans expect to stay home as a result of COVID-19 related health concerns and travel guidance. While typically the holidays are one of the busiest travel and vacation periods of the year, demand for vacations and travel is expected to decline by nearly 30% or more.

While AAA expects at least 34 million fewer travelers compared to last year’s holiday season, as many as 84.5 million Americans may still travel from the holiday period which began Wednesday and will end on Sunday, Jan. 3. 

“While Thanksgiving is traditionally spent gathering with friends and family, the year-end holidays are when Americans often venture out for longer, more elaborate vacations. That will not be the case this year,” said Patti Artessa, regional director of public and government affairs for AAA Northeast. “Public health concerns, official guidance not to travel, and an overall decline in consumer sentiment have encouraged the vast majority of Americans to stay home for the holidays.”

The CDC urges Americans not to travel for the holidays this year, warning that travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. 

For those who do travel, it is important to understand the risks involved and take steps to keep yourself and others safe, AAA advises, adding it is important to research the latest state and local travel restrictions, and to determine which rest stops, gas stations, restaurants and hotels are open along your route.

Based on mid-October travel forecast models, AAA expected up to 50 million people would travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, which would have been a decline of 10% from 2019.

While final Thanksgiving travel numbers are not yet available, AAA expects the decline to be closer to 15–20%, as the CDC and state and local authorities advised against holiday travel. Most Americans who decide to travel will do so by car, with road trips accounting for 96% of holiday travel. Up to 81 million Americans will travel by car, a decline of at least 25% compared to last year. Auto travel is expected to replace some trips previously taken by bus, train, or airplane, given the flexibility, security and comfort traveling by car provides.

For those who decide to hit the road for the year-end holidays, gas prices remain nearly 50 cents cheaper than this time last year. Recent monthly gas prices are 19% below 2019 averages.  

“Typically, cheaper gas prices are an incentive for last minute trips, especially around the holidays. But the lower prices and less traffic aren’t driving decisions to hit the road. Americans are looking to the public health landscape, including COVID-19 case numbers, to make their travel decisions,” Ms. Artessa said.

Only an approximate 2.9 million travelers are expected to book flights for the holidays this year, a decline of nearly 60% from 2019.

Air travelers can likely expect to pay lower airfares this holiday season, as AAA has seen double-digit reductions in average flight costs. AAA reminds air travelers to wear their mask, and wipe down seats, armrests, belt buckles and tray tables using disinfecting wipes, as an extra precaution. Meanwhile, up to 480,000 Americans are expected to travel by other modes, including bus and train this holiday season, a sharp decline of 87% as some bus and train trips will be shifted to car travel or canceled.

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