Holiday hustle

Record number of travelers expected this Christmas season

By Nick Fortuna


If you’re planning to visit loved ones or popular destinations this holiday season, be prepared for jam-packed roadways and airports. According to the American Automobile Association, approximately 115.6 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more between Dec. 21 and Jan. 1, the most since AAA began tracking that figure in 2000 and an increase of 4.3 million from last year.

That national figure includes a record-high 6.1 million Floridians, which is 300,000 more than last year, according to AAA.

The number of Americans expected to travel by car (104.8 million), by plane (6.97 million) and by buses, trains or cruise ships (3.81 million) are all up significantly from last year.

“Holiday cheer is at an all-time high this year, with unemployment at historically low levels and noted improvements in both disposable income and household net worth,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman for AAA. “Travelers should be getting used to crowded highways and airports, as this marks the eighth straight year of new record-high travel volumes for the year-end holidays.” 

For travelers, a little planning and preparation can go a long way. AAA said it expects more than 853,000 motorists to call the association for roadside assistance over the 12-day holiday period, and the three leading reasons will be dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts. To avoid being among them, travelers should get a free battery check from an auto parts store, check their tire pressure and address lingering maintenance issues at a trusted repair shop before their trips, AAA said.

Only minimal delays are expected for drivers in the Southeast in the days before Christmas, but on Thursday and Friday, Dec. 26-27, drivers likely will need twice as long to reach their destinations, according to AAA. Stretching holiday travel into the weekend and avoiding the busiest travel hours during the afternoon just might make it a smoother trip.

In mid-December, gas prices in Florida were averaging $2.50 a gallon, 30 cents more than last year, according to AAA.

“Lower gas prices are coming,” Jenkins said on Dec. 12. “Gasoline supplies have risen sharply during the past week, while demand has slumped. This should help send [Florida’s average gas price] below $2.40 per gallon before Christmas.”

According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, the daily average car-rental rate this holiday season will be $84, 11% more than last year and the highest price in 10 years. Conversely, hotels’ nightly rates will be flat this holiday season, with three-star hotels up 1% to $153 and two-star hotels down 2% to $119.

AAA’s flight booking data show that most Christmas travelers depart from Dec. 21-23, with Dec. 22 being the single busiest day for air travel during the holiday week. Christmas Eve will have the fewest travelers of the holiday week and offers the lowest average ticket price ($527). With bad winter weather possible, AAA encourages travelers to check the status of their flights before leaving for the airport.

The Southeast, Florida in particular, includes four of the 10 most popular destinations this holiday season, according to AAA: 

1. Orlando, Florida
2. Anaheim, California
3. Honolulu, Hawaii
4. Kahului, Maui, Hawaii
5. Las Vegas, Nevada
6. Fort Lauderdale, Florida
7. New York City, New York
8. Miami, Florida
9. Tampa, Florida
10. Phoenix, Arizona