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Number of Washingtonians Predicted to Travel for Thanksgiving Exceeds Pre-Pandemic Level

Buckle Up For Busy Roads As AAA Expects 87% Will Drive To Their Destinations

Editor’s Note: Washington numbers are bold; this release in lieu of the AAA Travel Hub Advisory
B-roll: Airport Video, TripTik COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map, Inspected Clean: Diamond Program

BELLEVUE, Wash. — Roads and airports may seem jam-packed this year as AAA predicts 53.4 million people, more than 1.4 million from Washington, will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, an increase of 13% and 16% respectively, from 2020. The new forecast shows national travel volumes within 5% of pre-pandemic levels in 2019, 2% above for Washington. AAA expects 90% of American travelers, 87% of Washingtonians to reach their destinations by car.

“This Thanksgiving, travel will look a lot different than last year,” said Kelly Just, spokesperson for AAA Washington. “With borders reopened, plus new health and safety guidelines in place, travel is once again high on the list of Americans ready to reunite with their loved ones for the holiday.”

By the Numbers: 2021 Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Forecast

Automobiles: The vast majority of Thanksgiving travelers — 48.3 million Americans, 1.2 million Washingtonians — are expected to travel by car. That is an increase of 8% and 9%, respectively, despite gas prices around the Pacific Northwest of $1.10 – $1.40 more per gallon than this time last year.

Air Travel: Almost completely recovered from its dramatic fall during the pandemic, air travel is up 80% from last year, 82% in Washington. AAA expects 4.2 million Americans, more than 160,000 Washingtonians to reach Thanksgiving destinations by air.

Other: Nationwide and in Washington, travel by trains, buses and cruise ships is expected to increase by 263% from 2020, but still remain 31% below pre-pandemic levels.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released its recommendations for holiday gatherings and related travel, saying that the best way to minimize COVID-19 risk is to get vaccinated if you’re eligible. However, everyone’s situation is unique and therefore, AAA urges anyone considering gathering or traveling for Thanksgiving to consult CDC guidance before finalizing holiday plans.

Travelers Headed to Big Cities and Beaches This Thanksgiving

For those who’ve already made plans, AAA booking data reveals that big cities and tropical destinations top travelers’ list this Thanksgiving both domestically and abroad. With the exception of Seattle as their number one domestic destination, AAA Washington clients have made similar plans.

AAA Washington’s Top Thanksgiving Destinations
U.S. DestinationsInternational Destinations
Seattle, WAThe Caribbean (via Ft. Lauderdale)
Santa Ana, CAPanama (via Ft. Lauderdale)
Las Vegas, NVBudapest, Hungary
New Orleans, LAAmsterdam, The Netherlands
San Francisco, CACape Town, South Africa
Phoenix, AZPuerto Valarta, Mexico
Los Angeles, CAMonterrey, Mexico
Hawaii (multiple islands)Cairo, Egypt
Albuquerque, NM(3-way tie) Berlin, Germany; Papeete, French Polynesia; British Columbia, Canada

Roads Will Be Bustling

In collaboration with AAA, INRIX predicts drivers will experience the worst congestion heading into the holiday weekend as commuters leave work early and mix with holiday travelers.

Daily Worst and Best Times to Travel
DayWorst TimeBest Time
Wednesday12:00 – 8:00PMAfter 9:00PM
Thursday12:00 – 3:00PMBefore 11:00AM
Friday1:00 – 4:00PMBefore 11:00AM
Saturday2:00 – 7:00PMBefore 12:00PM
Sunday1:00 – 7:00PMBefore 12:00PM
Source: INRIX
Puget Sound Worst CorridorsPeak CongestionTravel Times Expected to Multiply By:
I-5 S, WA-18 to WA-7Wednesday3.5 times
I-5 S, Federal Way to TacomaWednesday3.5 times
I-5 S, Federal Way to TacomaThursdayMore than 3 times
I-405 S, Kirkland to RentonWednesday3 times
I-5 S, Lynnwood to I-90 ExitWednesday2.75 times
I-405 N, Renton to NewcastleWednesdayMore than 2.5 times
I-5 N, Seattle to LynnwoodWednesdayNearly 2.5 times
520 Bridge W – Bellevue to SeattleWednesday2 times

Navigating the New Travel Landscape

No matter which mode of travel you choose for your Thanksgiving trip, it’s important to know how to avoid unnecessary stress and challenges along the way.

Be Proactive. Book flights, car rentals, accommodations and other activities as early as possible.

  • Air—Even with air travel seeing a boost this year, AAA finds the average lowest airfare 27% less than last year, coming in at $132. Tuesday and Wednesday are still the most expensive and heaviest travel days with Monday being the lightest and least expensive. Those wanting to book last minute travel will find the best fares about two weeks before Thanksgiving but availability may be limited.
  • Hotels—Mid-range hotel rates have increased about 39%, with average nightly rates ranging between $137 and $172 for AAA Approved Hotels. Earlier this year, AAA enhanced its Diamond designation program to include objective, scientific validation of the cleanliness of common surfaces in rooms. Hotels that meet these new standards are listed as Inspected Clean.
  • Car Rentals—Daily car rental rates have increased 4% compared to last Thanksgiving at $98. Over the summer, consumers experienced high costs and limited availability of rental cars in some markets due to the semi-conductor chip shortage impacting automakers. While this shortage has subsided, it could return as the holidays near.

Be Patient. The roads and airports will be busy so plan ahead.

  • Arrive at the airport early so you’ll have plenty of time to get through longer TSA lines and other travel checkpoints. For domestic travel, AAA suggests 2 hours ahead of departure time and 3 hours for international.
  • Consider booking a flight during non-peak travel periods to cut down on wait times.

Be Protected—Both You and Your Trip. Consider working with a travel advisor who can make any last-minute changes to travel plans, explore travel insurance options and help plan a trip that meets your needs for safety and comfort this holiday season. As travel restrictions remain in flux, it’s essential to know requirements and recommendations based on your vaccination status, where you’re coming from and where you’re headed. AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map and are helpful resources for travel inside the U.S.

Forecast Methodology

In cooperation with AAA, IHS Markit developed a unique methodology to forecast actual domestic travel volumes. The economic variables used to forecast travel for the current holiday are leveraged from IHS Markit’s proprietary databases. These data include macroeconomic drivers such as employment, output, household net worth, asset prices including stock indices, interest rates, housing market indicators, and variables related to travel and tourism, including prices of gasoline, airline travel and hotel stays. The travel forecast is reported in-person trips. In particular, AAA and IHS Markit forecast the total U.S. holiday travel volume and expected mode of transportation.


INRIX is the global leader in connected car services and transportation analytics. Leveraging big data and the cloud, INRIX delivers comprehensive services and solutions to help move people, cities and businesses forward. INRIX’s partners are automakers, governments, mobile operators, developers, advertisers, as well as enterprises large and small.

About IHS Markit

IHS Markit (NYSE: INFO) is a world leader in critical information, analytics and solutions for the major industries and markets that drive economies worldwide. The company delivers next-generation information, analytics and solutions to customers in business, finance and government, improving their operational efficiency and providing deep insights that lead to well-informed, confident decisions. IHS Markit has more than 50,000 business and government customers, including 80 percent of the Fortune Global 500 and the world’s leading financial institutions. Headquartered in London, IHS Markit is committed to sustainable, profitable growth.

About AAA Washington:

AAA Washington was established in 1904 by 10 prominent Seattleites determined to champion the betterment of motoring conditions and laws, the preservation of Washington state’s natural beauty and the promotion of Washington as an unrivaled tourist destination. Nearly 120 years later, the club continues to pursue these on behalf of its 1.2 million members. 

Members of AAA Washington receive exclusive benefits, including roadside assistance, discounts on hotels and rental cars, comprehensive insurance options, and personalized trip planning. AAA Washington was named a Best Place to Work by Puget Sound Business Journal and voted the best Travel/Tourism Company by 425 Business readers in 2023, and AAA was named one of the most trusted travel and automotive brands in the U.S. Additional information is available through the company’s Washington and northern Idaho stores and at 

About AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety:

Established in 1947 by AAA, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is a nonprofit, publicly funded, 501(c)(3) charitable research and educational organization. The AAA Foundation’s mission is to prevent traffic deaths and injuries by conducting research into their causes and by educating the public about strategies to prevent crashes and reduce injuries when they do occur. This research is used to develop educational materials for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and other road users. Visit

Media Contact

Fearey o/b/o AAA Washington 

Twitter: @AAA_Washington
Facebook: AAA Washington
Instagram: aaawashington

Interested in planning your next road trip with AAA Washington? Call your travel agent directly or your nearest AAA store to get pro tips, TripTik maps, and more. Find more Pacific Northwest scenic drives and road trips.

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