AAA forecasts 55.4 million people will travel 50 miles or more this Thanksgiving week, representing 2.3% growth over 2022 travel volumes.
The association expects this Thanksgiving week to see the third-highest travel volume since the year 2000.
A system of storms should impact the southeast and the mid-Atlantic through Wednesday morning and could affect air travel schedules, along with a cold snap in the northeast that will bring freezing temperatures overnight after weeks of unseasonably warm weather.
2023 has already been shaping up to be a year of travel recovery, as we have seen over the Memorial Day and Independence Day travel holidays. And Thanksgiving should be no different, with AAA projecting 55.4 million travelers will use planes, trains, automobiles, and also cruise ships to travel 50 miles or more from home.
Among other things, this projection represents an increase of 2.3% over 2022. But more importantly, it could be the third-highest Thanksgiving travel weekend since the year 2000.
"For many Americans, Thanksgiving and travel go hand in hand. And this holiday, we expect more people on the roads, skies, and seas compared to 2022," said Paula Twidale, Senior Vice President of AAA Travel.
AAA expects 49.1 million people will drive to their destinations, representing a 1.7% gain since 2022, while 4.7 million will fly. The number of fliers should see a gain of 6.6% over the previous year, as the airline travel industry was still in recovery mode in 2022.
One bit of good news about driving, compared to 2022, is that the national gas price average at the start of this week was $3.30 a gallon, compared to almost $3.60 this time last year.
Rental-car availability is also viewed as having recovered from most of the issues seen in 2022, as it's important to remember that many travelers who will fly might also need to rent cars at their destinations.
So at least these two aspects of car travel will be marginally better this year.
Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving should see the most congestion on the roads, and it could be made worse by a system of storms expected to impact the southeast, the mid-Atlantic, and parts of the northeast on Tuesday and Wednesday, bringing rain, thunderstorms, as well as snow.
"The day before Thanksgiving is notoriously one of the most congested days on our roadways. Travelers should be prepared for long delays, especially in and around major metros," said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX.
Saturday and Sunday will, of course, see heavy traffic as people return just in time for showing up to work on Monday, though AAA notes Monday will also be a popular day for return trips as people try to avoid the weekend traffic rush.
Perhaps the most surprising projection when it comes to this year's Thanksgiving travel trends—and the biggest gains by travel mode segment—will be an 11% uptick in those who will travel by bus, train, and cruise ship.
"The cruise industry, in particular, has made a remarkable comeback," Twidale said. "Thanksgiving cruises are mostly sold out, with many travelers looking to spend the holiday at sea."
From a wider perspective, this Thanksgiving travel week will be the busiest since the start of the pandemic—a factor that at one time was viewed as favoring travel by car in the longer term.
However, the global airline industry is now viewed as having largely returned to pre-pandemic levels. Among other things, we expect to see busier December holiday travel volume than any time since 2020 and perhaps earlier years.
Has the pandemic affected your mode of travel this year, or has it ceased to be a factor? Let us know in the comments below.