2021 Thanksgiving Travel Forecast: Millions More Americans Hitting the Road This Year

According to the American Automobile Association (AAA) forecast, millions more Americans will be traveling on Thanksgiving weekend 2021 than in 2020. Rental car and gas prices are already climbing. It does not matter whether you plan on catching a plane or taking a road trip, you can expect to encounter a crowd.

Bus, Train, and Ship travel forecast to be up 300%

Many more Americans expected to take public transit in 2021 than 2020 | Steve Pfost/Newsday RM via Getty Images

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The AAA reports that just 281,000 Americans took public transit or cruises during Thanksgiving 2020. The association forecasts that this number will nearly quadruple to 1,000,000 for 2021.

There are several reasons for this prediction. Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA travel explains, “borders are open and new health and safety guidelines are in place, travel is once again high on the list for Americans.”

At the same time, experts warn of a travel-related COVID-19 outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends Americans delay travel until fully vaccinated

In addition, masks will be required in “indoor areas” of public transportation infrastructure. This means that anyone older than two years must wear a mask while aboard a bus, train, or plane. The same rule applies to bus terminals, train stations, and airports.

The CDC recommends delaying any holiday travel until you are fully vaccinated. This federal government agency defines fully vaccinated as having completed a vaccination course (a first Johnson & Johnson shot or a second Moderna or Pfizer shot) two weeks ago.

Air travelers to double in the 2021 Thanksgiving travel forecast

Experts predict 4.2 million travelers will take to the skies | Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

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The AAA recorded only 2.3 million air travelers for Thanksgiving 2020. That was half as many as the 4.6 million Thanksgiving travelers in 2019. The agency predicts the number of air travelers will very nearly rebound in 2021. The 2021 Thanksgiving travel forecast calls for 4.2 million travelers to board planes over the long weekend.

Surprisingly, airfare is remaining relatively inexpensive this year. The lowest prices are actually 27.3% less than 2020. AAA expects these discounts to draw a last-minute crowd. The agency suggests air travelers arrive at the airport 2 hours ahead of domestic departures and 3 hours ahead of international departures.

The United States’ borders are again open to fully vaccinated and recently tested foreigners. A portion of the predicted air traffic may be foreign relatives coming to visit American families, or vice-versa.

Other countries, such as Canada, do not allow unvaccinated United States citizens entry. When returning to the US by air, an unvaccinated citizen will need to produce negative results of a COVID test administered within a day of beginning their return travel. Vaccinated citizens must present negative results, but their COVID test can have been administered up to three days before beginning their return travel.

If you are traveling this Thanksgiving, it may be helpful to know the local guidelines for COVID vaccinations, testing, and quarantine plans ahead of time.

2021 Thanksgiving travel forecast predicts 48.3 million roadtrippers

2021 Thanksgiving travel forecast predicts traffic | Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
AAA forecasts heavy traffic for Thanksgiving weekend 2021 | Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

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It appears that most Americans who chose to travel for Thanksgiving in 2020 chose to travel by car. The AAA recorded 49.9 million pre-pandemic automobile travelers during Thanksgiving weekend 2019. Then, the AAA recorded 44.5 million automobile travelers during the pandemic Thanksgiving weekend of 2020. Therefore, the association predicts this number will only rise slightly, landing at a total of 48.3 million road-trippers for Thanksgiving 2021.

The AAA expects the roads to be very crowded Thanksgiving weekend. In addition, AAA expects 400,000 calls for roadside assistance during the busy holiday weekend. Some of these stranded travelers may even slow traffic further. If possible, driving during off-peak hours may speed up your trip.

Overall, AAA predicts 53.4 million travelers in its 2021 Thanksgiving travel forecast. What is the result of all this Thanksgiving travel? Rental car prices are rising. Even the average hotel price is up 39% over last year. In addition, gasoline prices are up 60%.

If you plan to road trip, remember to sanitize your car for carrying passengers. In addition, wearing an N95 mask while driving can be dangerous.

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