AAA Forecasts Americans Will Take 700 Million Trips this Summer

Jun 25, 2020

Trends show travelers eager but anxious to explore; INRIX provides insight on summer traffic

BELLEVUE, Wash. — This summer, AAA forecasts Americans will take 700 million trips based on economic indicators and state re-openings. That number is down nearly 15% compared to last July through September and is the first decline in summer travel since 2009. AAA booking trends show Americans are cautiously making travel plans with more last-minute bookings. 

“Americans will get out and explore this summer though they’re taking a ‘wait and see approach’ when it comes to booking and are likely to take more long-weekend getaways than extended vacations,” said Paula Twidale, AAA’s senior vice president of Travel. “When they do venture out, travelers will satisfy their wanderlust with 683 million car trips.”

Road trips reign supreme — 97% of travelers list cars as the favored mode of transportation. Car trips will also see the smallest decrease in travel volume of just 3% year over year. Air travel will be off by about 74%, while rail, cruise ship and bus travel will slide by 86%. Were it not for the pandemic, AAA would be projecting 857 million trips during the third quarter, a 3.6% increase over last year. By this analysis, the pandemic reduced travel by nearly 150 million person-trips this summer.

July 1 – Sept 30, 2019
Total Volume
July 1 – Sept 30, 2020
Total Volume Forecast
YOY Difference
Automobile 706M 683M -3.3%
Air 57.9M 15.1M -73.9
Rail, Cruise, Other 64.3M 9.3M -85.5%
Total 857M 707M -14.6%

 

AAA travel experts have begun to see positive trends in travel, noting a gradual increase in hotel and rental car bookings since April. Air travel has been slower to rebound. The share of travelers making plans 48 hours to 7 days before departure – a sign that people are arranging spur-of-the-moment trips – is significantly higher than normal.

Road Trips

With travel restrictions lifting but social distancing still recommended, it’s no surprise that 97% of summer vacations are road trips. That’s up from an average of 87% over the last five years. Road trips allow travelers to make their own schedule and customize stops based on comfort level and interests. For families, especially those with small children, it is an easy and less expensive way to travel. An added benefit right now – gas prices remain the lowest since 2016.

Pacific Northwest Road Trips

Travelers looking for a long-weekend getaway on roads closer to home can discover a series of regional trips at AAA’s online Explore the Northwest Road Trips guide. In addition to these scenic routes and attractions along the way, is a how-to guide on preparing for road trips during the coronavirus pandemic: tips and precautions to keep your family safe on the move.

Top TripTik Destinations

Like every summer, road trippers can plan their travel in advance using AAA TripTik – a tradition that has guided generations of road trippers with paper and digital maps. It now includes COVID-19 Travel Restriction updates.

“Beyond mapping your route in advance, it is important to book hotels and plan out gas and food stops. Also, keep in mind that some national parks and attractions have capacity limits, so if there is a must-do activity on your trip, you’ll want to make arrangements for these in advance,” added Twidale.

When it comes to TripTik destination searches, prominent cities that typically draw large crowds are not as popular. Orlando, FL dropped from the top searched city destination to number eight while Denver, CO made the biggest climb from number 10 to number one. Seattle, WA sits at number four: (Data based on TripTik.AAA.com searches from March 15 – June 14, 2020) 

1. Denver, CO
2. Las Vegas, NV
3. Los Angeles, CA
4. Seattle, WA
5. Phoenix, AZ
6. Portland, OR
7. Myrtle Beach, SC
8. Orlando, FL
9. San Diego, CA
10. Nashville, TN

Traffic Across the Country

In collaboration with AAA, INRIX analyzed the top 20 metropolitan areas and all states to inform travelers of the traffic they will run into while travelling. While the top 20 metro areas will remain below typical traffic congestion levels, a number of states, including Washington, could expect traffic congestion rise to normal levels – while still below usual summer surges.

“While the amount people drive is still low for this time of year, we know millions will be taking road trips in the months ahead. The good news is, the congestion they will encounter is nowhere near what we typically see in a summer,” says Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst at INRIX.

Using the latest vehicle miles traveled (VMT) data available, INRIX has classified three categories to analyze traffic:

  • Lower: Probably not going to run into “normal” traffic congestion while traveling
  • Middle: Below 50% chance to run into “normal” traffic congestion while traveling
  • Upper: More likely than not to run into “normal” traffic congestion while traveling

Top 20 Metropolitan Areas Traffic Congestion Forecast

No metro area in the top 20 by population are in upper third of VMT recovery.

Lower Third Middle Third
Boston, MA Dallas, TX
Baltimore, MD Denver, CO
Chicago, IL Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN
Detroit, MI St. Louis, MO
Los Angeles, CA Houston, TX
Miami, FL Atlanta, GA
New York, NY  
Philadelphia, PA  
Phoenix, AZ  
San Diego, CA  
San Francisco, CA  
Seattle, WA  
Tampa, FL  
Washington, D.C.  

 

State Traffic Congestion Forecast

Lower Third Middle Third Upper Third
Arizona Alabama Alaska
California Colorado Arkansas
Connecticut Delaware Idaho
Florida Georgia Iowa
Hawaii Indiana Kansas
Illinois Kentucky Missouri
Louisiana Maine Montana
Maryland Michigan Nebraska
Massachusetts Minnesota North Dakota
Nevada Mississippi Oklahoma
New Jersey New Hampshire South Carolina
New York New Mexico South Dakota
Pennsylvania North Carolina Tennessee
Rhode Island Ohio Utah
Texas Oregon West Virginia
Vermont Virginia Wisconsin
Washington   Wyoming

Hotels

AAA Travel data shows that when top destinations, including Las Vegas, Orlando and NYC, were shut-down earlier in the year, bookings shifted to smaller destinations. As those top destinations begin to open, they are once again the top hotel destinations, though advance bookings in general are nearly 25% less than this time last year. Here are the top 10 most popular hotel destinations since mid-March based on AAA Travel bookings:

1. Las Vegas
2. Orlando
3. San Diego
4. New York City
5. Chicago
6. Nashville
7. Atlanta
8. Houston
9. Portland
10. San Antonio

For road trips that require an overnight stay, look for hotels with a AAA Diamond designation. For extra confidence, look for Diamond hotels that display a AAA Inspector’s Best Of Housekeeping badge. Property inspections finished prior to February. To meet the criteria for this award, these hotels received top marks for housekeeping excellence for two consecutive inspections and are free of AAA member complaints.

“In light of COVID-19, AAA is revising the inspection process used in its Diamonds Program,” said Twidale. “The new criteria will reflect best practices for protecting the health of hotel guests, employees and AAA inspectors.”

Other Modes of Transportation

Other modes of transportation – cruises, buses and rail – have seen the most dramatic drop in travel volume. Most cruise lines have suspended all departures until at least August 1, with only limited offerings after that. AAA, however, has noted growing demand for departures in 2021.

Rail travel offers a unique way to see the country, and AAA offers a number of itineraries to explore iconic cities as well as the National Parks and beyond at AAA.com/vacations.

Know Before You Go

No matter how a traveler gets to their final destination, AAA recommends considering these points before you go:

  • Check the CDC’s Covid-19 data tracker, municipal and state health departments and local news for updates on coronavirus cases and continue to do so while on the road.
  • Visit AAA’s Covid-19 Travel Restrictions Map at AAA.com for the latest state and local travel restrictions.
  • Pack face coverings, gloves and cleaning supplies – like disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer – and a thermometer.
  • Take all necessary travel documentation, including health insurance cards.

Methodology:

Because of the pandemic’s impacts on travel, AAA did not release Memorial or Independence Day travel forecasts.  AAA’s Q3 projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Markit, a London-based business information provider. For the purposes of this forecast, the summer travel period is defined as July 1 through September 30. In cooperation with AAA, IHS Markit developed a unique methodology to forecast actual domestic travel volumes, using 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 complete AAA/IHS Markit forecast is available here.

About INRIX:

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. Our partners are automakers, governments, mobile operators, developers, advertisers, as well as enterprises large and small.

Media Contact

Jennifer Cook
Senior Manager, Corporate Communications
425-646-2055
JenniferCook@aaawa.com

Kelly Just
Manager, Public Relations
425-467-7740
KellyJust@aaawa.com

Location
Bellevue Corporate Office
3605 132nd Ave. SE
Bellevue, WA 98006

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About AAA Washington:

AAA Washington has been serving members and the traveling public since 1904. The organization provides a variety of exclusive benefits, including roadside assistance, discounts, maps and personalized trip planning, to its million plus members. In addition, its full-service travel and insurance agencies provide products and services for members and the public. Additional information is available through the company’s offices in Washington and northern Idaho, at www.AAA.com, or by calling 1-800-562-2582.

AAA Washington Media Contacts

Kelly Just | 425-647-1594
Jennifer Cook | 425-301-9075
Twitter: @AAA_Washington
Facebook: AAA Washington

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