TAMPA, Fla. – A record-setting 5.9 million Floridians will travel 50 miles or more for the final holidays of the year - the most since AAA began tracking holiday travel in 2001.
The Auto Club Group projects additional 266,000 Floridians will hit the holiday highways and skyways this year. “Low gas prices and a strong economy continues to drive up demand for seasonal travel,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman, AAA – The Auto Club Group. “With more Floridians hitting the road than ever before, AAA urges drivers to reduce the risk of a holiday hazard. Get your vehicle inspected by a trusted mechanic, minimize distractions while behind the wheel, and do not drive impaired.”
The upward trend is the same on a national scale. Nearly 112.5 million Americans will take at least one holiday trip. AAA expects 5 million more American travelers than last year. The year-over-year growth of 4.4 percent is the largest since 2014.
102.1 Million American Drivers Face Congested Roads
More than 102.1 million Americans (5.3 million Floridians) will take a road trip – 4.3 million more than last year. Congestion will increase Wednesday-Friday before Christmas, as commuters share the road with holiday travelers.
“With a record-level number of travelers hitting the road this holiday, drivers must be prepared for delays in major metro areas,” says Trevor Reed, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Our advice is to avoid traveling during peak commuting hours. If schedules allow, leave bright and early, or after the morning commute.”
Gas Prices Could be Lowest in Two Years
If pump prices remain at current levels, Florida drivers will find the lowest holiday gas prices in three years. On Wednesday, the average gas price in Florida was $2.31 per gallon. That is 4 cents less than what motorists paid on Christmas Day 2017, 13 cents less than the price on New Year’s Day 2018.
“Gas prices should be somewhat erratic over the next couple of weeks,” said Jenkins. “Gas prices have fully adjusted to the drop in the price of crude. After declining 54 cents in the past 9 weeks, it appears the plunge at the pump is over. The Florida average price has already inched up a few pennies this week, but AAA does not forecast any major gains before the holidays, unless oil prices suddenly surge.”
Air Travel Soars to 15-Year Highs
AAA forecasts the most holiday air travelers in 15 years. Of the nearly 6.7 million Americans who will fly, 319,000 of them are Floridians – a year-over-year increase of 4.2% and 4.1% respectively. Compared to last year’s holidays, AAA expects an additional 140,000 Americans (12,000 Floridians) to pass through our nation’s airports.
AAA recommends travelers arrive at the airport at least two hours before the scheduled departure of their flight. To expedite travel, AAA recommends travelers enroll in pre-check programs.
The Airlines for America group projects a more robust 45.7 million air passengers. This is a stark contrast to AAA figures, and here are two reasons why:
- AAA’s forecast measures only American leisure travelers, while Airlines for America also includes business and international travelers.
- AAA counts individual air passengers, while Airlines for America counts every time someone steps on a plane, A4A counts them as a traveler. If a person changes planes on the way to and from their destination, A4A would count them as four passengers, while AAA counts them as one.
Best and Worst Times to Fly
An analysis of AAA’s flight booking data from the last three years revealed that most holiday air travelers depart two or three days before Christmas and return the day after the holiday. This holiday season, Saturday, Dec. 22, Sunday, Dec. 23 and Wed., Dec.26 will be the busiest days in the skies and at the airports. Fewer holiday travelers choose to fly on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, which are the lightest travel days around the Christmas holiday.
Most travelers booked their Christmas flights between Oct. 26 and Nov. 27, paying an average ticket price of $561 round-trip. Last-minute planners who book between Dec.12-18 this year can expect to pay the lowest average airfares, at $488. However, those travelers risk encountering limited availability and their preferred flights may already be sold out.
Car Rental Costs Reach 10-Year High, Hotel Prices Mixed
Holiday road trippers should budget slightly more for a rental car this year, as daily rates have increased 3 percent over last year. At $76, the daily average car rental rate this holiday season is the most expensive in 10 years. Travelers will also pay a bit more at AAA Two Diamond hotels, where prices are 1 percent more than last year, or $122 per night. Conversely, the average rate for AAA Three Diamond hotels has fallen 3 percent to an average nightly cost of $152.
Top 10 Year-End Travel Destinations
Warm-weather destinations are top draws in the winter months, occupying nine of the top 10 spots on the list of most popular holiday destinations, based on AAA’s online and travel agency air and tour bookings. The major cruise ports of Fort Lauderdale and Miami have both gained in popularity compared with last year, on the heels of a strong year for cruise sales. Meanwhile, New York City, the only cold-weather destination to make the top 10, can also expect a growing influx of travelers this holiday season.
1. Orlando, Florida
2. Cancun, Mexico
3. Anaheim, California (Disneyland)
4. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
5. Montego Bay, Jamaica
6. Honolulu, Hawaii
7. New York, New York
8. Kahului, Hawaii (Maui)
9. Fort Lauderdale, Florida
10. Miami, Florida
AAA to Rescue 960,000 Motorists with Car Trouble
AAA expects to rescue more than 960,000 motorists at the roadside this year-end holiday period. Dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires will be the leading reasons AAA members will experience car trouble.
AAA recommends motorists take their vehicle to a trusted repair facility to perform any needed maintenance before heading out. Oil changes, fluid level checks, battery tests and tire inspections go a long way toward reducing the chances of a breakdown.