BOISE, Idaho — According to AAA’s latest projections, about 55.3 million travelers are expected to travel far from home to celebrate Thanksgiving this year. “That’s the most since 2005, and nearly a million and a half more than last year,” said Idaho AAA spokesman Matthew Conde. “Overall, more than 296,000 Idahoans are expected to take a trip -– an increase of three percent.”
AAA says high consumer confidence, low unemployment, and gas prices on par with last year will encourage more people to head for the highways and skyways.
“The economy continues to bounce back from the recession years with an eleventh straight year of rising travel volume for Thanksgiving,” said Conde. “With more money in their pocket, confident consumers are moving forward with their holiday travel plans.”
The 2019 Thanksgiving holiday period is defined as Wednesday, November 26 to Sunday, December 1. Experts say the busiest times on the road will be Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday morning, and Wednesday afternoon, as travelers mix with commuters who are heading to and from work. In large metro areas, drive times could be two or three times longer than normal, due to traffic congestion.
The busiest day at most airports across the country will be Wednesday. Regional airports -- including Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles -- will be hectic for any Idahoans who might be making a connecting flight. The least-busy day will be Thanksgiving itself.
“If you decide to travel at the last minute, you might be able to snatch up an inexpensive ticket and still arrive in time for Thanksgiving dinner,” Conde said. “But if you’re traveling during peak times, expect full planes, busy security lines, and crowded gates. In recent years, overall seat capacity has not increased as quickly as the demand for flying.”
Idaho’s rural makeup means that an above-average number of people will drive to reach their destination, and a slightly-below-average number will fly when compared with national trends.
AAA says that 49.3 million -– or 89 percent of travelers –- will jump behind the wheel to visit their friends and family for a holiday feast. More than 263,000 Idahoans will be among them. Another four and a half million people will fly, about 4.6 percent more than last year. Other modes of travel (cruise, bus, train) will be up slightly at 1.4 percent.
“As far as gas prices, the Idaho average price for regular gasoline recently hit the three-dollar mark as a result of strong fuel demand, depleted inventories, and reduced refinery production in the Rockies region,” Conde explained. “Although gas prices have been steadily rising in the Gem State since early October, there is some good news –- today’s price is 22 cents more than a month ago, but still six cents less than a year ago. Colder weather will likely reduce future demand, putting downward pressure on gas prices.”
“AAA’s research shows that most Americans won’t make any adjustments to their travel plans until prices reach $3.50 per gallon or higher,” he added. “Current prices aren’t likely to disrupt anyone’s Thanksgiving celebration.”
According to AAA’s Travel Leisure Index, the average Thanksgiving airfare is seven percent higher than last year, reflecting a continued interest in maximizing time spent at the end destination. Car rental rates are up by a whopping 20 percent -- to about $75 per day. The average price for a room at a AAA Two Diamond-rated hotel increased slightly by one percent to $125 per night, but there are some nice savings to be had at a Three Diamond-rated property, where the average price dipped by five percent to $158 per night.
“Many parts of Idaho are dealing with explosive population growth. That means more cars on the road, including some being driven by people who may not be familiar with conditions here in the Gem State,” Conde explained. “To avoid miserable driving conditions, try to leave before the roads are saturated, or wait until the traffic has died down.”
He said drivers should also pack extra clothing, food, water, a first aid kit, flashlight with extra batteries, jumper cables, flares or reflectors, and some basic tools.