BOSTON, MA — If you’re planning to travel around or away from Massachusetts this Christmas, you’ll have plenty of company.
More than 109 million people in the United States plan to travel between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2, according to AAA’s newly released end-of-year travel forecast. That’s a 34 percent increase from 2020, when most people were forced to cancel travel plans or hold smaller celebrations at home due to the coronavirus pandemic.
That dramatic bounce-back — 27.7 million more people traveling — will bring this year’s numbers within 8 percent of 2019 levels. Airlines will also see a 184 percent increase in travelers over last year.
“With vaccines widely available, conditions are much different and many people feel a greater level of comfort with travel,” Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, said in a news release.
Road trips remain the preferred method of travel during the holidays. More than 100 million plan to reach their destination by car despite gas costing $1.25 per gallon more than a year ago. More than 6 million people are expected to travel by air, while 3 million people are booking buses, trains and cruises.
AAA booking data through October shows that travelers are headed to theme-park-heavy destinations such as Orlando, Florida, and Anaheim, California. Las Vegas, New York City and several other Florida cities also rank high.
Whether you plan to travel by plane, train or automobile, those doing so in major urban cities are likely to see increased delays in areas where traffic bottlenecks are already common.
The transportation analytics firm INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts only marginal delays throughout the holiday week. However, major metro areas across the United States could see more than double the delays versus typical drive times, while drivers in New York City are likely to experience more than three times the delays.
Worst Travel Times
If you plan to travel in the Boston area and want to avoid the rush, be aware that the peak travel time is expected to be Dec. 23 during the afternoon hours, according to AAA. The most congested roads will be I-93 northbound and Route 2 coming out of Boston and Cambridge — the roads will be about 155 percent over capacity, according to the travel forecast.
Nationwide, here are the best and worst times to travel over Christmas and New Year’s:
Travelers are also likely to run into some higher prices and other changes from last year. AAA recommends travelers book flights, car rentals, accommodations and other activities as early as possible, as prices are not expected to decrease as the holiday nears.
Traveling by air: AAA flight booking data show ticket prices for Christmas week are up 5 percent from last year, with the average lowest round-trip fare at $154. For those flying around New Year’s, prices will be considerably higher, with the average lowest fare at $182.
Hotels: The cost of a night’s stay at mid-range hotels has increased about 36 percent, with the nightly rate averaging $320 on Christmas and $267 on New Year’s Eve.
Car rentals: Daily car rental rates are averaging about $130, a 20 percent increase over last year.
Planning ahead can prevent a number of travel headaches, according to AAA:
Arrive at the airport early so you’ll have plenty of time to get through longer TSA lines and other travel checkpoints. For domestic travel, AAA suggests two hours ahead of departure time and three hours for international travel.
Plan ahead. Check with state and local authorities where you are, along your route, and at your planned destination to learn about local circumstances and any restrictions that may be in place.
Follow public health guidance. Use face masks and remember to socially distance. Wash your hands regularly and be sure to pack disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and a thermometer to help protect and monitor your health.
For other helpful travel guidance from AAA, visit the organization’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map for the latest state and local travel restrictions. You can also use TripTik.AAA.com to plan your road trip and help determine which rest stops, gas stations, restaurants and hotels are open along your route.