An Eye-Popping Number Of People Are Expected To Travel This Holiday Season

Over 115 million Americans are expected to get away over the 10-day year-end holiday travel period, says AAA

A passport sits next to a jar filled with small bills and pennies.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Whether you choose to spend the holidays on the sunny shores or snowy ski slopes, expect airports and roads to be jammed packed. 

AAA's annual end-of-year forecast projects that 115.2 million Americans will be on the move over the 10-day year-end holiday travel period from Saturday, December 23, 2023, to Monday, January 1, 2024. That is a 2.2% increase over last year and a 3.2% decrease from 2019 when 119 million Americans traveled over the holidays. (AAA defines “travel” as going 50 miles or more away from home, so meeting friends at a 5-star restaurant 60 miles away would count.)

“This year-end holiday forecast, with an additional 2.5 million travelers compared to last year, mirrors what AAA Travel has been observing throughout 2023,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel. “More Americans are investing in travel, despite the cost, to make memories with loved ones and experience new places.”

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According to the forecast, AAA expects nearly 104 million people will drive to their holiday destinations, an increase of 1.8% compared to 2022, and 7.5 million people will travel by air, surpassing 2019’s record of 7.3 million passengers. 

The number of people traveling over the holidays by other modes, like by bus, train, or taking a cruise, is also 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. 

These are predicted to be the worst days for road trips

The worst traffic during the 10-day holiday period will be on Saturday, December 23; Thursday, December 28; and Saturday, December 30, the time when most people are heading back home or traveling for New Years, according to INRIX, a provider of transportation data and insights. 

Generally, the best times for a road trip are before lunchtime or after 7 p.m. The AAA report includes more specific details on when to plan your travel for various metro areas. 

Air travel will be crowded

Airports are expected to be the busiest over the Christmas and New Year’s travel periods, as 7.5 million air travelers surpass 2019’s record of 7.3 million passengers. The top holiday travel destinations span from beaches to snowy wonderlands.

Fortunately, ticket prices are projected to be slightly lower than last year, according to the airfare-tracking site Hopper, with the average domestic ticket price for Christmas trips at $400 this year, down roughly $52 per ticket.

The travel forecast is reported in person-trips. In particular, AAA and SPGMI forecast the total U.S. holiday travel volume and expected mode of transportation. The travel forecast presented in this report was prepared the week of October 9, 2023.

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Kathryn Pomroy

For the past 18+ years, Kathryn has highlighted the humanity in personal finance by shaping stories that identify the opportunities and obstacles in managing a person's finances. All the same, she’ll jump on other equally important topics if needed. Kathryn graduated with a degree in Journalism and lives in Duluth, Minnesota. She joined Kiplinger in 2023 as a contributor.