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‘Tis the season of dreaded holiday travel.
That’s not music to most people’s ears, and this next bit of information isn’t going to help.
Nearly 51 million Americans will travel this Thanksgiving - bringing the highest travel volume in a dozen years.
“AAA projects 50.9 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more away from home this Thanksgiving, a 3.3 percent increase over last year,” according to AAA’s website. “The 2017 holiday weekend will see the highest Thanksgiving travel volume since 2005 with 1.6 million more people taking to the nation’s roads, skies, rails and waterways compared with last year.”
Travel times in the most congested U.S. cities could be more than three times longer over the holiday week.
The good news is the 9NEWS Verify team looked into the holiday travel myths to help you plan your holiday journeys.
HOLIDAY TRAVEL MYTHS
1. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the busiest air travel day of the year.
According to Dave Smallen, director of public affairs for the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, air travel used to be busier during the summer, but the holiday season has taken over.
“For the past two years, the Sunday after Thanksgiving was the busiest air travel day of the year,” Smallen said in an email.
The largest growth in holiday travel is by air with 3.95 million travelers, which is a 5 percent increase from last year, according to AAA’s 2017 Thanksgiving Travel Forecast.
He provided the following information about the previous busiest air travel days.
George Hobica, founder and president of travel deal website Airfarewatchdog, agreed over email the Sunday after Thanksgiving is busier than the Wednesday before when it comes to air travel.
“This year Dec. 21 and 22, the weekend before Christmas, will likely be busier than the Wednesday before Thanksgiving,” Hobica said.
According to Skyler McKinley, spokesman for AAA Colorado, Thanksgiving is a significant travel period, but it’s similar to other popular travel times like Christmas, New Years and the Fourth of July.
AAA’s 2017 Thanksgiving Travel Forecast projects 89 percent of all travelers, or 45.5 million people, are planning a road trip for Thanksgiving, which is a 3.2 percent increase over last year.
McKinley said the holiday road travel is also typically spread out over a few days.
That means you shouldn’t think you can escape the traffic if you leave after work on Tuesday.
“That Tuesday evening is a really heavily congested time to leave because you have people who are starting to hit the roads for Thanksgiving travel and you’ve got congestion from regular work commuters,” McKinley said.
He said air travel is generally about the same on Thanksgiving as it is the day before as a lot of people depart the day-of with early flights. But, he said there is significantly less congestion on the roads during Thanksgiving Day.
McKinley provided advice for people who are venturing out for the holidays:
- Avoid driving through major cities during peak travel times.
- The best time to leave is early in the morning when roads are less crowded
- If you can travel on the holiday itself, there is going to be significantly less congestion
- Expect roads to be a little jammed up: be patient, leave plenty of time.
- Expect a lot of traffic on the way to the airport and longer lines
2. There are more flight delays during Thanksgiving than at any other part of the year.
Based on Bureau of Transportation Statistics over the past five years, there have been fewer delays than average during November.
The percent of arrival flights delayed during the previous holiday seasons for all airports and all carriers is as follows:
- 2016: November = 13.06%; December = 22.47%; annual = 17.16%
- 2015: November = 15.08%; December = 20.19%; annual = 18.28%
- 2014: November = 18.32%; December = 23.09%; annual = 21.32%
- 2013: November = 15.37%; December = 28.05%; annual = 19.93%
- 2012: November = 13.08%; December = 21.60%; annual = 16.65%
The delays for departures reflected the same trends.
But, the same can’t be said for Christmas time, when there are is a higher percentage of flight delays than average.
“Winter storms can affect travel,” Hobica said.
3. You can’t find a last-minute airfare deal during the Thanksgiving or Christmas travel period.
The bottom line is it depends on where you’re headed.
“If airlines put the last few seats on sale, however, they will be middle seats on red-eye flights or on flights leaving at 5 or 6 am,” Hobica said.
Basically, the deals will be on the least desirable flights and seats.
“If you don’t really care where you go, you can absolutely get a great deal,” McKinley said.
He added that people won’t see the deals for popular places such as Orlando, Anaheim and New York City, but fliers can get better deals for less popular holiday travel destinations.
McKinley said typically the longer people wait to book their flights, the more expensive tickets become. The countdown for Christmas travel starts around Halloween - everyday people wait, there will be an increase in cost
But, prices for airfare are looking good this year.
AAA’s 2017 Thanksgiving Travel Forecast, people who fly will pay the lowest average in five years for a round-trip flight for the top 40 domestic routes.
“At $157, on average, that is a 23 percent fare drop year-over-year,” according to AAA’s website.
4. Hotel prices always the highest during the holidays.
Similar to the flight deals, it really depends on your destination.
“If you’re going to Kansas City, which is not traditionally a hot tourist destination, there probably is going to be pressure downward on those rooms,” McKinley said.
Urban hotels are often less costly because they rely on business travelers who are often absent for the several days surrounding Christmas. This leaves open rooms for other travelers who can often find deals during the holiday season.
But he said places like New York City and Anaheim have increasing rates.
People will pay more for AAA Three Diamond Rated hotels during the holiday weekend, according to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index.
The average price went up 14 percent to $176 a night.
But the average price for AAA Two Diamond Rated hotels has gone down five percent and cost an average of $117 a night.
5. Gas prices are always expensive during the holiday season.
This time of year, gas prices are generally less expensive than the rest of the year.
“Every fuel supplier in America now has switched to what’s called winter-blend, which is generally 10 cents cheaper on the gallon for consumers,” McKinley said. “This is also not peak driving season. People generally go on road trips during the summer, that’s generally when we see more expensive prices.”
But, according to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, most U.S. drivers will pay the highest Thanksgiving gas prices since 2014 - this November’s national average is 37 cents more than last year at $2.54.