PORTLAND, Ore., – AAA projects more than 55 million Americans (16.8 percent of the population) will kick off the holiday season with a trip of 50 miles or more away from home this Thanksgiving, a 2.9 percent increase over last year. About 748,000 Oregonians will head over the river and through the woods.

The 2019 holiday weekend will see the highest Thanksgiving travel volume since 2005 when 58.6 million travelled. This year, 1.6 million more people are taking to the nation’s roads, skies, rails and waterways compared to last year. The Thanksgiving holiday travel period is defined as Wednesday, November 27 through Sunday, December 1.

“A strong economy is driving this second-highest Thanksgiving travel volume on record. Most will drive to their holiday destinations to enjoy a turkey feast with family and friends, although all modes of travel are showing big jumps compared to last year,” says Marie Dodds, public affairs director for AAA Oregon/Idaho. “This is the 11th consecutive year of rising travel volume for the holiday.”

Pacific Region also sees boost

In the Pacific region (Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska and Hawaii), 9.5 million travelers (17.6 percent of the population) are expected to travel for the holiday weekend, an increase of 3.4 percent compared to last year. About 748,000 Oregonians will travel.

Quick stats 

  • Highest Thanksgiving travel volume since 2005 with 55.3 million Americans traveling, up 2.9 percent over last year. About 748,000 Oregonians will head over the river and through the woods.
  • Road trip ready: 89 percent of all travelers – 49.3 million – are planning a Thanksgiving road trip, an increase of 2.8 percent over last year. In Oregon, roughly 643,000 will drive.
  • Busy skies: Air travel will see the biggest increase in travel volume at 4.6 percent with 4.4 million flying. Busiest travel days are Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Expect long security lines. Arrive at the airport two hours before your domestic flight and three hours before your international flight.
  • Airfare costs more: Consumers will pay 7 percent more over last year. Average ticket price is $491 roundtrip for tickets purchased by Oct. 27. Surprisingly, AAA finds procrastinators can get some of the best pricing although availability will be limited.
  • Alternate travel: Travel by trains and other modes (including buses and cruises) is up 1.4 percent to 1.49 million travelers.
  • Fueling up: Gas prices are similar to last year.
  • Spendy car rentals: Rates are up 20 percent from last year at $75 per day.
  • Hotel costs show modest increases or decreases, depending on the property.
  • Heaviest traffic expected Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon/evening. Some highways could see delays of nearly four times over the normal trip.
  • AAA to the Rescue: AAA will rescue 368,000 drivers nationally and about 7,500 in Oregon. Dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires are the top three issues.
  • Anaheim, Seattle and Las Vegas are top 3 destinations for AAA Oregon members. Favorite regional destinations are central Oregon, the Oregon Coast, and British Columbia.

It’s the economy

Strong economic fundamentals are encouraging Americans to venture out in near-record numbers for Thanksgiving. Consumer spending remains strong thanks to increasing wages, disposable income and household wealth. Travel remains a top priority for the holiday season.

Wednesday is busiest travel day; Heaviest traffic expected Tuesday and Wednesday evenings

The majority of travelers plan to leave the day before Thanksgiving and return the following Sunday. Nearly a quarter of all travelers typically return on Monday, Dec. 2 or later.

2019 Thanksgiving Travel Projections

INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts drivers will experience the greatest amount of congestion during the afternoon and early evening hours in the days leading up Thanksgiving. Travel times will start to increase on Monday of Thanksgiving week and peak on Wednesday as commuters mix with holiday travelers. Drivers on some interstates and highways could see delays of nearly four times compared to normal drive times on Wednesday.

The most congested times are expected to be Tuesday afternoon/evening from 3:00 to 6 p.m. and Wednesday from 2 to 7 p.m. as travelers head to their destinations; and much of Sunday afternoon and evening as holiday travelers return home after the long weekend. The lighter travel days are Thanksgiving Day, Friday and Saturday.

“If you can avoid the peak travel times on Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday, you can save yourself some traffic headaches. Still, with a near-record travel volume, you can expect busier-than-normal roads whenever you go, so plan on delays and give yourself extra time to get to your destination,” adds Dodds. “Also, get to the airport early as security lines will be long at times. Arrive at least two hours before your domestic flight, and three hours before an international flight.”

Most will travel by car

More than 89 percent of travelers (49.3 million people or 15 percent of the population) plan to drive to their Thanksgiving destinations. This is a 2.8 percent increase compared to last year and the highest number of car travelers since 2005.

In the Pacific region, 86 percent of all travelers (8.1 million travelers or 15.1 percent of the population) will go by car, an increase of 3.2 percent compared to 2018. In Oregon, roughly 643,000 are planning a Thanksgiving road trip.

Get plenty of rest before setting out on a road trip and schedule breaks every two hours or 100 miles to remain alert and avoid driving drowsy. Also, be aware of the dangers of cognitive distraction while driving. AAA research shows that hands-free and in-vehicle technologies can mentally distract drivers, even if their eyes are on the road and their hands are on the wheel. Drivers should designate a passenger to serve as their official text messenger and navigator.

Gas Prices Similar to Last Year

AAA says gas prices are similar to last Thanksgiving. The current (Nov. 14) national average is $2.61 and the Oregon average is $3.30.

“AAA finds that travelers don’t view gas prices as a major factor in planning Thanksgiving travel because they want to kick off the holidays with family and friends. Those who need to cut expenses will do so in other ways without canceling their trips,” says Dodds.

2019 Thanksgiving travel projections

Air travel sees biggest growth

The largest growth in holiday travel is by air travel which is expected to increase by 4.6 percent nationally, with 4.4 million Americans (8 percent of holiday travelers or 1.3 percent of the population) flying to their holiday destinations. This is the highest volume seen for the holiday since 2007.

In the Pacific Region, 1.1 million people (11.3 percent of holiday travelers or 2 percent of the population) will fly to their holiday destination. This is an increase of 5 percent compared to 2018. The Pacific region is geographically more spread out and typically sees a higher than average share of its population fly and this is the case for this Thanksgiving.

Busiest air travel days are Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday; airfares up 7 percent

An analysis of AAA’s flight booking data from the last three years shows that the Tuesday and Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving (Nov. 26 and 27) are usually the most popular air travel days, and most travelers are flying back home on Sunday, Dec. 1.

Most travelers booked their flights for Thanksgiving by October 27 and paid an average price of $491 for a round-trip ticket in the U.S. Those taking to the skies will pay about 7 percent more for airfare this year according to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index.

2019 Thanksgiving Travel Projections

Flying Monday of Thanksgiving week (Nov. 25) is the best option for travelers to arrive at their destinations before the holiday. It has the lowest average ticket price ($486) prior to the holiday, and is a lighter travel day than later in the week.

Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 28) consistently has the lowest average price per ticket ($454) and is the lightest travel day.

It’s not too late to book Thanksgiving travel. AAA surprisingly finds that procrastinators can actually get a lower priced ticket with an average price of $482. However, availability is very limited so you may not be able to travel on your preferred days and times (and you’ll probably get that middle seat!).

Arrive at the airport at least two hours before domestic flights and three hours before international flights. Visit TSA.gov for the latest info on getting through security. AAA recommends travelers enroll in programs such as TSA PreCheck and Global Entry to expedite the security process.

“It’s always a good idea to arrive early at the airport over the Thanksgiving holiday. Not only are airports much more crowded, but we also see an increase in the number of folks who don’t fly all that often, which can slow security lines,” says Dodds. “Know what you can bring with you through security. Don’t bring wrapped gifts, and remember that gifts like jams, jellies, wines and beers are liquids and you can’t bring them through security.”

Travel by other modes also shows increase

Travel by other modes of transportation, including cruises, trains and buses, will increase 1.4 percent this Thanksgiving to 1.49 million travelers.

Hotel rates up or down, depending on the property; car rental rates climb

According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, rates for AAA Three Diamond Rated lodgings are down 6 percent to an average of $158 per night down from $166 a year ago. The average rate for a AAA Two Diamond Rated hotel is up 1 percent with an average nightly cost of $125 up from $124 last year.

Daily car rental rates are up 7 percent from last year with an average daily rate of $75 up from $63 a year ago.

Top Thanksgiving destinations:

This year’s top destinations for Thanksgiving based on AAA bookings at AAA Oregon/Idaho include popular West Coast and Hawaiian cities, as well as perennial family-friendly favorites:

  1. Anaheim, California
  2. Seattle, WA
  3. Las Vegas, Nevada
  4. Honolulu, Hawaii
  5. Vancouver, B.C.
  6. Kahului, Maui, Hawaii
  7. Phoenix, Arizona
  8. San Diego, CA
  9. Orlando, FL
  10. New York, NY

Other top regional spots include central Oregon, the Oregon coast, Joseph, San Francisco/Bay area, Yosemite, San Juan Islands, Grand Canyon, and British Columbia, Canada.