WASHINGTON, D. C.(Tuesday, December 15, 2020)–– AAA Travel expects the vast majority of Americans to stay home this holiday season, with the surging coronavirus pandemic considered to be a key factor in the decision-making process of many who are opting not to travel for the holidays.

In other words, health concerns and official travel guidance are influencing the decisions of Americans to avoid traveling over the year-end holidays, a period that typically sees high demand for vacations. While AAA expects at least 34 million fewer travelers compared to last year’s holiday season, as many as 84.5 million Americans may still travel from December 23 through January 3, a decline in the travel of at least 29%.

In the wake of dire warnings from public health officials that traveling during the dual holiday travel period may increase your odds of contracting the coronavirus, or spreading it to elderly loved ones and to others, far fewer Washington metro area residents will be venturing home for the holidays. Two-thirds of all Greater Washington area residents are expected to stay home during the busiest and biggest travel period – Christmas Day and New Year’s Day – of the year. The number of Christmastide travelers from the region will plummet by almost 30 percent.

“While Thanksgiving is traditionally spent gathering with friends and family, the year-end holidays are when Americans often venture out for longer, more elaborate vacations. That will not be the case this year,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel. “Public health concerns, official guidance not to travel, and an overall decline in consumer sentiment have encouraged the vast majority of Americans to stay home for the holidays.”

Yet in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and with all the forewarnings that the safest way to celebrate the holiday is at home, it is projected as many as 2.2 million people living in and around Washington, D.C. will opt to travel 50 miles or more from home during the 12-day holiday period. More will heed the caveats. All-in-all, it still betokens a 27% decline in the number of holiday travelers hailing from the region, compared to this time a year ago, when nearly three million denizens in the region traveled over the bookend holidays. The Greater Washington region boasts a populace 6,280,697 strong.

“This time, both holidays, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day fall on Friday a week apart.  Under normal circumstances, the number of travelers tends to spike when a holiday occurs on a Friday, creating a three-day weekend. Not this time under these existential circumstances posed by the coronavirus,” said John B. Townsend 2nd, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public & Government Affairs.

“Despite the flexibility of back-to-back long weekends, the proportion of Washington area residents traveling for the holidays will plummet by a ratio of 26.6 percent from the Christmastime season this time a year ago. Those opting to travel must be mindful of the pandemic restrictions in effect in their holiday destinations and where they reside when they return from traveling.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urges Americans not to travel for the holidays this year, warning that travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. For those who make the personal decision to travel, it is important to understand the risks involved and take steps to keep yourself and others safe.

Seek the advice of a trusted travel advisor and refer to AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map and TripTik.AAA.com for the latest state and local travel restrictions, and to help determine which rest stops, gas stations, restaurants, and hotels are open along your route.

Road Trips Will Decline, but Remain Preferred Method of Travel

Most Americans who decide to travel will do so by car, with road trips accounting for 96% of holiday travel. Up to 81 million Americans will travel by car, a decline of at least 25% compared to last year. Auto travel is expected to replace some trips previously taken by bus, train or airplane, given the flexibility, security and comfort traveling by car provides.

2020 Year-End Holiday Travelers
AutomobileAirOther(Bus, Train, Cruise)
202081.1M2.94M480,000
2019108.0M7.33M3.89M
Change?24.9%?59.9%?87.7%

Likewise, the vast majority of all holiday travelers – 96 percent – from the Metropolitan Washington Region will venture to their holiday destinations by automobile. All told, 2.09 million persons are expected to travel by car for their excursions during the holy days and holidays.

Even at that, it still represents a major drop in the number of persons hitting the roads across the region a year earlier during the holiday season, when 2.7 million embarked in automobiles.

Year-End 2020 Travel Projections for the Washington Metro Area At-A-Glance

Total Travel & PercentageAutomobile Travel & PercentageAir Travel & PercentageOther Modes OfTravel & Percentage
2.18 million Washington Metro residentsDown 26.6% from2.97 million peoplein2019.2.10 million area residents(96% of all travelers)Down 22.3% from2.7 million peoplein 2019.70,700 area residents(3% of travelers)Down 57% from 164,500 in 2019.13,600 area residents(0.6% of travelers)Down 87.4% from 108,100 personsin 2019.

The Washington metro area will witness an almost unprecedented drop in the number of area residents on the roads and at airports during the holiday season.

For example, the number of Washington metro area residents departing the three major airports in the region will drop drastically, by three-fifths, in fact. This time, nearly 71,000 Washington area residents are expected to book flights and fly to their holiday destinations, compared to 165,000 locals a year earlier. It comprises a 57 percent decline in air travel across the region.

The number of area residents expected to travel by other modes will plummet 87.4 percent this holiday season. Fewer than 14,000 area residents will venture to their holiday destinations via trains andbuses this time around, compared to just over 108,000 area residents erstwhile, onlya year ago.

Even so, six out of ten folks in the Washington metro area will only “be home for Christmas in their dreams,” to paraphrase the vintage Christmas song. In the cosmic scheme of things, a combined total of up to 6.2 million people in the Washington metro area, Maryland and Virginia are projected to travel during the 12-day holiday period. That tally includes up to 2,183,000 persons in the Washington metro area, 1,764,500 persons in Maryland, and 2,285,500 people in Virginia.

Across the tri-jurisdictional region, the number of holiday travelers is forecast to be down by 26.6% across the Washington metro area; 29.9% in Maryland; and 30.7% in Virginia. In both states, and acrossthe Washington metro area, 96% of people will drive, three percent will fly and one percent or less will travel by other modes such as bus or train.

Travel Modes for the Holy Days and Holidays Across The Region

AutoAirOtherTotal
2020DC Metro2,098,60070,70013,6002,183,000
2020MD1,696,70055,50012,2001,764,500
2020VA2,196,70071,90016,9002,285,500

Large Declines Expected by Air and Other Modes of Travel

Nationwide, as many as 2.9 million travelers are expected to book flights for the holidays, a decline of nearly 60% from 2019. Air travelers can likely expect to pay lower airfares this holiday season, as AAA has seen double-digit reductions in average flight costs.

What to Know Before You GoPlan Ahead.Check with state and local officials along your route and at your destination to learn about local guidance and any restrictions that may be in place. This includes what is expected of you when you return home. Many localities are requiring COVID-19 testing prior to and after travel.Follow Public Health Guidance.Verify Before You Go.Call ahead to minimize any last-minute surprises.

AAA reminds air travelers to wear their masks, and wipe down seats, armrests, belt buckles, and tray tables using disinfecting wipes, as an extra precaution. Meanwhile, up to 480,000 Americans are expected to travel by other modes, including bus and train this holiday season, a sharp decline of 87% as some bus and train trips will be shifted to car travel or canceled.

For those who decide to hit the road for the year-end holidays, gas prices remain nearly 50 cents cheaper than this time last year. Recent monthly gas prices are 19% below 2019 averages.

“Typically, cheaper gas prices are an incentive for last-minute trips, especially around the holidays. But the lower prices and less traffic aren’t driving decisions to hit the road. Americans are looking to the public health landscape, including COVID-19 case numbers, to make their travel decisions,” said Jeanette Casselano McGee, AAA spokesperson.

AAA reminds those hitting the road to plan their route in advance and ensure their vehicle is ready for the road, to help avoid a breakdown along the way. AAA expects to rescue more than 905,000 Americans at the roadside this holiday season. AAA makes it easy to request assistance—by phone or text (1-800-AAA-HELP),apporonline—and members can track the service technician’s progress as they make their way to your vehicle.

INRIX Predicts Increased Delays During Holiday Afternoons

Traffic volume, and therefore traffic congestion, during the holiday week, is expected to be less than in years past. However, travelers in major urban areas could still experience delays upwards of triple normal drive times at popular bottlenecks throughout the day. Nationwide, drivers could see travel times about 20% above normal pandemic congestion levels.

“Despite warnings, Thanksgiving traffic surged more than 30% above the daily pandemic average in some states,” said Bob Pishue, Transportation Analyst at INRIX. “We expect a similar increase around the upcoming winter holidays unless stricter travel restrictions are put in place and followed.”

Worst Drive Times on Nation’s Busiest Corridors

RegionCorridor (to/from)Peak Congestion PeriodPeak Delay (min)
Washington DCI-95 South (I-495 to VA-123)12/28/20 at 11:30am31
AtlantaI-75 North (Arthur K Bolton Pkwy to I-675)12/26/20 at 3:45pm32
BostonMA-3 (Derby St to I-93)12/26/20 at 3:00pm17
ChicagoI-290 East (Mannheim Rd to Morgan St)12/30/20 at 4:00pm18
DetroitUS-23 North (8 Mile Rd to I-96)12/23/20 at 11:45am15
HoustonI-10 West
(Sjolander Rd to Crosby Lynchburg Rd)
12/26/20 at 3:45pm6
LAI-5 South (Colorado St to I-605)12/29/20 at 5:15pm30
New YorkI-95 South (I-678 to GW Bridge)12/30/20 at 4:30pm45
San FranciscoUS-101 North (Golden Gate to I-580)12/23/20 at 5:00pm16
SeattleI-5 South (WA-18 to Portland Ave)12/30/20 at 4:15pm22

Source: INRIX

Even so, Washington area residents will encounter the worst traffic delays of the 12-day  holiday travel period on Monday, December 28, along the southbound side of Interstate 95, according to an analysis by INRIX.  The brunt of the drive time delays will crop up from I-495 to Route 123 in Virginia. It all unfolds on the major corridor a half-hour before noon, at 11:30 a.m.

“Although health experts have advised against any non-essential holiday travel, peak delays on I-95 South (I-495 to VA-123) will elongate by 31 minutes at the noonday hour on December 28, as many holiday travelers flock back in droves from their three-day Christmas holiday weekend,” said Townsend.

Holiday travelers are continuing to take a wait-and-see approach to their travel decisions. With COVID?19 cases steadily increasing this month, the expected continued rise will likely prompt some Americans to make last-minute decisions to not follow through with upcoming travel plans, which was the trend during the lead up to Thanksgiving.

Based on mid-October travel forecast models, AAA expected up to 50 million people would travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, which would have been a decline of 10% from 2019. While final Thanksgiving travel numbers are not yet available, AAA expects the decline to be closer to 15–20%, as the CDC and state and local authorities advised against holiday travel.

AAA Members Find Savings at Shell

AAA members who decide to hit the road can fill up for even less at Shell stations when they join the Fuel Rewards® program at AAA.com/Shell from November 15 to December 31. In addition to the five cents per gallon everyday offer, members will receive an additional 10 cents off per gallon on their first three fill-ups after joining for the first time as a Fuel Rewards® member, for a total savings of 15 cents.


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