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Holiday Road: Tennesseans travel in record numbers

Posted on Wednesday, December 20, 2023 at 8:10 am

AAA projects 2.7 million Tennesseans will travel 50 miles or more during the upcoming year-end holiday travel period, spanning from December 23rd to January 1st. This year’s total number of travelers is a 3% increase over last year and the second highest year-end travel forecast volume since 2000 when AAA began tracking holiday travel. 2019 remains the busiest Christmas and New Year’s travel period on record in Tennessee, with 2.8 million travelers.

“AAA has seen steady year-over-year growth in travel demand, culminating with what is expected to be the second-busiest year-end holiday travel season both in Tennessee and nationwide,” said Debbie Haas, Vice President of Travel for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Despite various inflationary pressures, Americans are still willing to budget for travel. With a record number of travelers, the roads, airports and cruise lines will be more crowded than normal. So, finalize your travel plans now, anticipate longer lines, and give yourself extra time to get to your destination.”

AAA expects road travel to be the second highest on record. More than 2.5 million Tennesseans will drive to their holiday destinations, an increase of 64,900 compared to 2022. As 2023 comes to a close, drivers can expect to pay about the same or less for a gallon of gas than they did last holiday season, when the Tennessee average on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day was $2.73 and $2.88, respectively.

Airports are expected to be the busiest they’ve ever been throughout the Christmas and New Year’s travel period. Nationally, AAA projects 7.5 million air travelers. That’s 200,000 more than the previous record set in 2019.

Meanwhile, over 74,000 Tennesseans are forecast to take a commercial flight. While that is 3,400 more than last year, it’s the third highest air travel volume on record, behind 2002 (97,859) and 2001 (83,380).

“AAA recommends booking flights as early as possible to ensure the best combination of price and availability,” Haas said. “Those waiting until the last minute could catch a discount but may have fewer options in terms of non-stop flights and seat availability. Whenever you book, it’s important to consider travel insurance.”

“Seemingly every year around this time we hear about winter weather that causes widespread cancellations or delays,” Haas continued. “That’s another reason why we encourage travelers to get travel insurance, which offers protection for covered expenses associated with flight cancellations, lost luggage, and on flights with delays of as little as three hours.”

The number of people traveling by other modes, like bus, train, and cruise, is projected to surpass 2019. AAA expects more than 4 million Americans will take alternative transportation over Christmas and New Year’s compared to 3.66 million in 2022 and 3.89 million in 2019. Demand for cruises has skyrocketed post-pandemic, and the industry is now preparing for the wave of bookings that traditionally happens at the start of the new year.

“Savvy travelers know that right after the holidays is the best time to book a cruise,” Haas said. “That’s when cruise lines offer some of the best deals, and AAA members get exclusive benefits in addition to those discounts.”

INRIX, a provider of transportation data and insights, says there will be several days of potentially bad traffic during the 10-day holiday period. Saturday, December 23, and Thursday, December 28, will be the most congested days on the road. INRIX also says Saturday, December 30, when many people will be heading back home from their holiday destinations or traveling for New Year’s Eve, will see an increase in traffic compared to a normal Saturday. The best times to hit the road are before lunchtime or after 7pm.