BALTIMORE, MD (December 15, 2021) – A strong desire to travel among those who stayed home last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been driving holiday travel volume all year and the end of the year holiday travel season is no exception.

“If there is one thing we have seen at AAA throughout the year, it is pent-up demand for travel. Whether people are hitting the road for an overdue visit with friends and family, or planning a more significant getaway, there is little discouraging them,” said Ragina Ali, spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic in Maryland and Washington, D.C.

AAA does not expect concerns related to the omicron variant to significantly impact year-end travel given that newly imposed travel restrictions apply only to international travel – not domestic, leisure travel.  AAA expects both the roads and the airports to be extremely busy from December 23rd through New Year’s, as they have been over most holiday weekends since the COVID-19 vaccines became widely available.

Despite news of the new variant, the CDC has not changed its guidelines, maintaining that it is safe for those who are fully vaccinated to travel and, as of today, the United States is not considering vaccine mandates or any new requirements for domestic travel.

Gas Prices

Although the national gas price average ($3.32) has been trending downward for the better part of a month now, prices are still more than $1.00 more than a year ago.

Here in Maryland, gas prices have also been dropping slowly. The average price at the pump on Tuesday was also $3.32, down a penny in a week, two cents from a month ago but still nearly $1.00 (98 cents) more than last year.

AAA is not anticipating that higher gas prices will impact end-of-year holiday travel. “Historically, increased gas prices have not deterred motorists who have made holiday travel plans,” Ali said. “Instead, they adjust their budgets, spending less on accommodations, eating out or other expenses.”

Airfare, Hotels, Car Rentals

According to the AAA Leisure Travel Index:

Christmas week (Monday, Dec. 21 through Friday, Dec. 24), AAA 3-Diamond hotels will be 36% more expensive than last year, airfares are up an average of 5% and car rentals will be up 20%. 

New Year’s week (Monday, Dec. 27 through Friday, Dec. 31), AAA 3-Diamond hotels will be 127% more expensive than last year, airfares are up an average of 27% and car rentals will be up 65%.

Increased Safety Protocols

In the wake of COVID-19, the travel and hospitality industry has increased safety protocols to help people feel comfortable. Hotels have enhanced their cleaning procedures and housekeeping standards to meet the expectations of today’s travelers. Every AAA Diamond-designated property must pass an unannounced inspection that includes a physical examination of cleanliness and condition. Now, that examination also includes a scientific measurement to ensure cleanliness levels meet travelers’ expectations. Look for AAA ‘Inspected Clean’ designation when booking your hotel.

AAA Travel Offers Six Tips To Increase Safety And Reduce Stress:

  1. Work with a Trusted Travel Advisor – Given the potential for shifting travel restrictions in the wake of COVID-19, AAA strongly recommends working with a travel advisor who can help navigate any issues that may arise, and advise as to the best, safest options. AAA travel advisors are on hand at all AAA Retail locations.
  2. Consider Travel Insurance – Travel insurance is relatively inexpensive for the peace of mind it provides in return but policies differ. AAA recommends insurance that allows travelers to ‘cancel for any reason’. A recent AAA survey found that about a third of all travelers are more likely to consider purchasing travel insurance specifically because of the pandemic.
  3. Book a Vehicle Checkup today – Whether driving to your year-end destination or driving to the airport, basic vehicle maintenance reduces your risk of a breakdown or battery failure. AAA will be busy providing Emergency Roadside Service to hundreds of thousands of Members forced to rethink their holiday plans because of a breakdown. This is an extremely busy time of year at AAA Car Centers and AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities as vehicle owners ready their cars for winter. Make an appointment today for a bumper-to-bumper vehicle ‘check-up’ which may not be available if you wait until the last minute. 
  4. Expect Delays and Plan Accordingly – Whether you are planning to drive or fly to your holiday destination, give yourself extra time. Drivers should travel at off-peak times if possible. Flyers should get to the airport at least two hours prior to their flights if traveling domestically, three hours if traveling internationally.
  5. Understand and abide by CDC guidelines and local travel restrictions – The omicron variant reminds us that we are still in flux and at risk of changes being imposed on where and how we can travel safely. Masking is still required in airports and most public transportation hubs. Knowing what is expected of travelers will save you time and reduce stress.
  6. Take additional precautions – Drivers should make sure their AAA Membership is up to date so what could be a minor inconvenience does not become a major disruption to their holiday plans.

“Imagine waking up early to catch a flight only to discover your car does not start or experiencing a breakdown while traveling a busy highway with a car full of kids,” Ali said. “Always travel with a fully-charged cellphone and program the AAA call center number or download the app so you will know who to contact in the event of a roadside emergency.”

In 2020, AAA responded to more than 800,000 Members across the country, including more than 13,000 in Maryland, over the year-end holiday period. While the majority of calls were for dead batteries and flat tires, thousands more called AAA for help because they had locked themselves out of their vehicles. “Making sure your car is road-ready before you hit the roads is essential, and sometimes slowing down can actually save you time in the long run,” Ali Said.

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