Nearly 51 million Americans are expected to hit the roads, skies and rails as early as Tuesday, AAA warns.
Don’t forget to pack your patience this weekend.
AAA is projecting that almost 51 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more for Thanksgiving this week, making it the most crowded Turkey Day commute they’ve seen in a dozen years.
An extra 1.6 million people are flocking to the roads, skies, rails and waterways over last year, which could drive up travel times in the most congested cities like Chicago and New York as much as three hours longer than usual.
Their travel forecast by the numbers includes:
- 45.5 million people, or 89% of all passengers, planning a Thanksgiving road trip. That’s 3.2% more drivers than last year.
- That’s despite drivers paying the highest Thanksgiving gas prices since 2014; the national average is $2.54 a gallon, or 37 cents more than last November.
- Car rental daily rates are at a five-year holiday high of $70 per day, thanks to demand and newer vehicles being added to the fleets.
- Air travel is up 5% with 3.95 million fliers this year – but the good news is, some fliers are paying the lowest airfares since 2013. Round-trip flights for the top 40 domestic routes are $157 on average, or a 23% drop year-over-year.
- Journeying by train, bus or cruise ship is expected to rise 1.1% to 1.48 million travelers.
So why the perfect traffic storm on the road when gas and rental prices are sky-high?
“The strong economy and strong labor market are generating more disposable income and higher consumer confidence, and many people are choosing to spend that extra cash jingling in their pockets by traveling to spend the holidays with family and friends, or choosing to just take a vacation this weekend,” Jeanette Casselano, director of external communications at AAA, told Moneyish.
Here are some tips and tricks for staying sane during the holiday rush hour this week.
Drivers: Research Your Route. The traffic jam could begin as early as Tuesday’s evening rush hour, particularly in cities like Chicago (between 5-6 p.m.), San Francisco (4-5:45 p.m.), Los Angeles (3:15-6 p.m.), Boston (5:15-7:15 p.m.), New York (5:30-6:30 p.m.) and Washington, D.C. (4:45-6 p.m.) — so try to plan your road trip before or after those times.
“We’re seeing more people trying to beat the crowds and leave a little earlier [than historically] on Tuesday, but it’s creating more congestion,” said Casselano. “Now on Tuesday and Wednesday evening, right around rush hour, you’ve got people leaving town for the holiday, and also people trying to get home from work, compounding what’s on the road.”
But if you can swing it, the roads are generally wide open on Thanksgiving morning. “If you’ve got the flexibility to travel on the holiday, there’s much less traffic on the road,” she said.
Research the projected traffic and gas prices along your planned route, and detour where it might be cheaper and less congested, before you head out the door. AAA projects the traffic hotspots in the country’s most congested cities here to help you plan your route.
You can also use the AAA app or gasprices.aaa.com/ to plan the most budget-friendly pit stops.
Google also has a handy tool to help you avoid traffic in urban centers like the above cities, as well as Orlando, Philadelphia, Dallas, Phoenix and more. Its data from last year also anticipates the worst traffic to be the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving. But roads are clearer Thanksgiving morning, and early that afternoon.
Fliers: Leave Early. Give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport; at peak travel times on Tuesday and Wednesday evening, AAA predicts it will take almost two hours to get from downtown Manhattan to JFK, for example, and one hour and 14 minutes to get from Chicago’s downtown to O’Hare Airport. See its list of worst travel times to the nation’s busiest airports here. Remember that the rule of thumb at airports is to arrive two hours before domestic flights, and three hours before international flights, so plan accordingly.
You can also save yourself some time by checking into your flight online and getting your boarding pass printed out or sent to your phone before heading to the airport, so it’s one less thing for you to do once you get there. And bring just a carry-on if possible, to avoid waiting in line to check your bag. TSA has more tips here.
Train Passengers: Avoid the Rails on Sunday. Amtrak’s busiest days will also be Tuesday and Wednesday this week, spokesman Jason Abrams told Moneyish, but the Sunday after gets especially crowded, too. “Last year, the Sunday after Thanksgiving was the single busiest travel day of the year for Amtrak with more than 140,000 customers traveling across our national network,” he said.
Morning trains typically have more availability than later trains in the afternoon and evening. “And if you’re willing to travel on Thursday (Thanksgiving Day) or on Saturday instead of Sunday, you might be able to find more affordable rates,” he added.
Amtrak suggests booking your tickets online or through their app in advance, and arriving 30 to 40 minutes before boarding time if you’re not checking a bag, and between 45 minutes to an hour if you are. You can check two bags and bring two carry-ons, up to 150 pounds collectively, for free. And cats and small dogs under 20 pounds can also ride for $25. See more Amtrak travel tips here.
And while AAA doesn’t have projections for the return trip home, Casselano assured that while it will be busy, it won’t be as bad as the pre-holiday rush (besides Amtrak, that is). “People tend to space out their travel across Friday, Saturday, Sunday and even Monday, rather than condensing their trips on just two days Tuesday and Wednesday,” she said.
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