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AAA: Thanksgiving travel expected to rebound this year

More than 53.4 million people are expected to travel this year, which is close to pre-pandemic numbers.
Credit: WGRZ

BUFFALO, N.Y. — If you're planning on traveling for this Thanksgiving, you are certainly not alone. According to AAA, more than 53.4 million people will be leaving home for turkey day.

As expected, the number is 13 percent higher than 2020, when many people avoided large gatherings due to the spread of COVID-19. This brings travel within 5 percent of pre-pandemic levels last seen on Thanksgiving of 2019.

In 2020, about 2.3 million people flew for Thanksgiving, this year, 4.2 million people are expected to fly to their destinations signaling an 80 percent increase from last year. 

“International travel re-opening will allow people to reconnect with friends and family and explore new places, while also giving a much-needed boost to the economy. But it also means airports will be busier than we’ve seen, so travelers must plan for longer lines and extra time for TSA checks," says Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel.

AAA is recommending getting to the airport 2 hours early for domestic flights and 3 hours early for international flights to allow time to get through those longer TSA lines.

If you are traveling by air, AAA recommends booking flights, car rentals and hotels as early as possible. Prices for airfare are about 27 percent lower than last year. The busiest and most expensive days to fly will be Tuesday and Wednesday. The best prices will likely come about two weeks before Thanksgiving, on Thursday, November 11. However, due to limited capacity on flights and staffing shortages, AAA does not recommend waiting that long to buy.

The prices of other accommodations like hotels (up 39 percent) and car rentals (up 4 percent) have also increased from last year. Some travelers could see issues with rental cars as companies are still recovering from this past summer's car shortage.

This year's big jump in travel is the highest single-year increase since 2005. Despite gas prices being significantly higher than this time last year, 90 percent of people plan on driving to their Thanksgiving dinners. If you do plan on driving, the worst time to go would be Wednesday between noon and 8 p.m. and Thursday between noon and 3 p.m. The best time to travel is after 9 p.m. on Wednesday and before 11 a.m. Thanksgiving morning.

As far as where people are traveling this Thanksgiving, it looks like travelers are heading towards warm climates. According to AAA, the top five most popular locations are Orlando, Anaheim, Dallas, Phoenix and Honolulu.

The CDC recommends getting vaccinated, saying it's the best way to avoid getting and spreading COVID-19 while traveling this holiday season.