Why Is Thanksgiving Travel So Expensive This Year?

Holiday travel is expensive in 2021. Hotel prices are up 39% over last year’s prices. Rental car prices are up 66%. Average nationwide gas prices are $1.29 higher than they were a year ago. At some California pumps, regular gas currently costs over $5 a gallon. Whether you are hopping a plane or planning a road trip, getting home for the holidays will probably not be cheap this year.

AAA predicts 53 million Americas will travel on Thanksgiving weekend, 2021

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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According to the AAA, 56 million Americans traveled for the 2019 Thanksgiving weekend. With the COVID-19 pandemic, that number plummeted to 47.1 million in 2020. Most of the 2020 travelers drove. A fraction of the normal number of travelers took public transit or flew.

The AAA predicts that the total of 2021 Thanksgiving weekend travelers will return to near pre-pandemic numbers. The association forecasts 53.4 million Americans will travel during the long Thanksgiving weekend.

More than 90% of 2021 Thanksgiving weekend travelers will drive. AAA predicts 48.3 million Americans will travel by car for the holiday. In addition, the association estimates 4.2 million Americans will fly. Finally, it predicts 1 million Americans will take a bus, train, or cruise.

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.”

With demand skyrocketing, gas prices are up $1.29/gallon on average

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Millions of more Americans who did not travel for Thanksgiving 2020 are planning to travel for Thanksgiving 2021. These added travelers are driving up demand for gasoline, rental cars, and hotel rooms. As a result, the cost of these goods is rising.

Some think Thanksgiving travel is too expensive this year. When gas prices rose to 60% higher than this time last year, President Biden wrote a letter to the Federal Trade Commission. The President suggested gas companies are taking advantage of holiday demand to hike prices. He asked the Commission to investigate further.

“I do not accept hard-working Americans paying more for gas because of anti-competitive or otherwise potentially illegal conduct.”

President Joseph Biden

Thanksgiving travel may be slow as well as expensive in 2021

High numbers of travelers are making thanksgiving travel expensive this weekend. | Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
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 explosion in holiday traffic will test more systems than the gas stations and rental car companies. AAA expects long lines at airports. The agency urges fliers to arrive at the airport at least two hours early for domestic flights and three hours early for international flights.

AAA also expects that with so many drivers on the road, some will run into trouble. The agency predicts it will receive 400,000 requests for roadside assistance during Thanksgiving weekend 2021. Obviously, these broken-down vehicles could clog already congested roadways. This may be a good year to allow for extra driving time.

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