The 2023 holiday travel forecast from AAA is one of the highest on record, marking a return to normal following the pandemic.
Droves of Americans are expected to travel with the holidays right around the corner.
In total, around 115.2 million travelers will fly, drive, ride the bus or take the train during the holiday travel season, according to a forecast from AAA.
The total number of travelers expected in 2023 marks a 2.2% increase from 2022, and is one of AAA’s highest holiday forecasts on record. The actual record was set in 2019, with 115.6 million travelers.
Air travel is expected to exceed pre-pandemic levels, with AAA predicting 7.5 million travelers will take to the skies, surpassing a 2019 record of 7.3 million.
Are Airlines Ready For Holiday Travel?
U.S. airlines experienced a rocky comeback from the pandemic, but 2023 has so far been a lot smoother. Cancellation rates for the first nine months have so far stayed below 2%, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
However there is more pressure on U.S. airlines to ensure their operations are ready for the holiday travel season, especially in the event of any extreme weather.
Last year, a winter storm caused the airlines to cancel thousands of flights, and Southwest Airlines was hit the hardest with the cancellation of around 16,700 flights from Dec. 21 to New Year’s Eve last year.
Southwest has repeatedly said it is prepared for extreme weather this year as it invested billions in new technology, de-icing equipment and better crew coordination. During a third-quarter earnings call, Southwest executives said the airline was already seeing stronger bookings for the holiday season compared to last year.
AAA anticipates that 104 million travelers will drive and around 4 million will either ride a bus or train or take a cruise.
Where Holiday Travelers Are Going
Even as the post-pandemic trend of “revenge travel” wanes, travel still remains strong and in some cases, has either caught up to or surpassed pre-pandemic levels.
A Deloitte holiday survey found that approximately 48% of Americans planned to take at least one trip during the holidays. And it found an increasing number of Americans were taking vacations rather than visiting friends or family.
In fact, Deloitte found that around 29% of travelers planned to pay for lodging during a holiday trip, up from 13% in 2021. The trend is primarily driven by Gen Z and millennials, along with those who have higher incomes.
A Chase Travel study based on its bookings data found the most popular holiday destinations this year were in South America and Asia, along with beach destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean.