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AAA Travel expects a significant rebound in the number of Americans planning to travel this Memorial Day holiday weekend. From May 27 through May 31, more than 37 million people are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home, an increase of 60% from last year when only 23 million traveled, the lowest on record since AAA began recording in 2000.

The expected strong increase in demand from last year’s holiday, which fell during the early phase of the pandemic, still represents 13%—or nearly 6 million—fewer travelers than in 2019. AAA urges those who choose to travel this year to exercise caution and take measures to protect themselves and others as the pandemic continues.

“As more people get the COVID-19 vaccine and consumer confidence grows, Americans are demonstrating a strong desire to travel this Memorial Day,” said Martha Meade, Manager of Public and Government Affairs AAA Mid-Atlantic. “This pent-up demand will result in a significant increase in Memorial Day travel, which is a strong indicator for summer, though we must all remember to continue taking important safety precautions.”

AAA notes that the actual number of holiday travelers could fluctuate as we approach Memorial Day. If there is an increase in reported cases attributed to new COVID-19 variants, some people may decide to stay home, while others may note the strong progress in vaccinations and make last-minute decisions to travel. AAA recommends working with a travel advisor, who can help if you need to make any last-minute changes to travel plans as well as explore travel insurance options and help you plan a vacation that meets your needs and comfort-level this summer.

Another factor contributing to the expected increase in travel this holiday is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recently updated guidance that fully vaccinated people can travel domestically at low risk to themselves, while taking proper precautions. It’s important to keep in mind that some local and state travel restrictions may still remain in place, however. Travelers can refer to AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map and TripTik.AAA.com for the latest information to help plan their trip.

For travelers who are not vaccinated but choose to travel, CDC recommends that you practice social distancing, wear a mask, wash your hands and get tested before and after travel. Whether you are vaccinated or not, remember masks are required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.

AAA Travel has noted significant recent increases in online traffic and bookings on AAA.com, particularly for hotels and car rentals, heading into the summer travel season. AAA booking data reveal that domestic travel and road trips remain the biggest drivers of travel recovery in the near term. Orlando and Las Vegas are top Memorial Day destinations this year, both for AAA Travel bookings and TripTik road trip searches.

When planning a trip, refer to the new AAA Digital TourBook guides, now available for destinations across the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean at TourBook.AAA.com. Available on smartphone, tablet or desktop, the new interactive guides feature detailed destination information, must-see attractions, sample itineraries and more.

Most Memorial Day travelers to take road trips

With 34 million Americans planning Memorial Day road trips, auto travel is expected to increase 52% compared to 2020.  Nearly 12 million more Americans will travel by car this holiday than in 2020, though this is still 9% less than in 2019. More than 9 in 10 Memorial Day travelers will drive to their destinations, as many Americans continue to substitute road trips for travel via planes, trains and other modes of transportation.

After a historically low year of air travel in 2020, this Memorial Day will see nearly 2.5 million Americans boarding airplanes, nearly six times more than last year (+577%). Still, 750,000 fewer people will take to the skies this holiday compared to 2019. AAA reminds air travelers that masks are required in all airports and on flights.

Meanwhile, just 237,000 Americans are expected to travel by other modes, including bus and train, this Memorial Day. This is the second-lowest volume on record, higher only than the 185,000 who traveled in 2020. In 2021, travel via these modes will be 88% below 2019 levels.

2021 Memorial Day Holiday Travelers
Total Automobile Air Other

(Bus, Train, Cruise)

2021 (Forecast) 37.1M 34.4M 2.5M 237,000
2020 (Actual)* 23.1M 22.6M 363,000 185,000
2019 (Actual) 42.8M 37.6M 3.2M 1.9M
Change (2019 to 2021) −13.3% −8.7% −23.4% −87.5%
Change (2020 to 2021) +60% +52.4% +577.5% +28.0%

*AAA did not issue a Memorial Day holiday travel forecast in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, actual travel volumes were recorded after the holiday for comparison purposes this year.

Worst times to hit the road

INRIX predicts drivers will encounter the longest travel delays before the holiday weekend, particularly during the afternoons on Thursday, May 27 and Friday, May 28. Drivers in several major U.S. metros could experience double the travel times compared to a normal trip, while Atlanta, Houston and New York drivers could see more than three times the delay on the busiest corridors.

“Although vehicle trips are down as much as 40% in some metros, afternoon congestion is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels. With the increase of holiday travelers to the typical afternoon commute, drivers in the larger metros should expect longer delays heading into the holiday weekend,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst, INRIX. “Travelers should anticipate delays to start on Wednesday and continue through Memorial Day. Our advice to drivers is to avoid the evening commute times and plan alternate routes.”

Metro Area Worst Corridor Worst Day Worst Time Delay Multiplier
Atlanta I-85 Clockwise;
Hwy 81 to Augusta Rd
Thursday, May 27 3:30–5:30 PM 3.0x
Boston I-95 South;
MA-9 to Coney St
Thursday, May 27 3:00–5:00 PM 1.2x
Chicago I-290 West;
Morgan St to Wolf Rd
Thursday, May 27 2:45–4:45 PM 1.2x
Detroit I-696 West;
M-10 to US-94
Friday, May 28 2:00–4:00 PM 1.5x
Houston I-69 East;
I-610 to I-10
Friday, May 28 3:15–5:15 PM 3.0x
Los Angeles I-5 South; Colorado St to Florence Ave Friday, May 28 4:30–6:30 PM 2.0x
New York I-95 West;
US-130 to GW Bdg
Thursday, May 27 1:00–3:00 PM 5.4x
San Francisco US-101 North; Golden Gate Bdg to I-580 Thursday, May 27 5:45–7:45 PM 1.8x
Seattle I-5 South;
WA-18 to WA-7
Thursday, May 27 5:30–7:30 PM 1.6x
Washington, D.C. I-95 South;
I-395 to VA-123
Thursday, May 27 3:30–5:30 PM 1.1x
Source: INRIX

Be prepared for higher gas prices

For the 34 million Americans expected to travel by car this Memorial Day, they can expect gas prices to be the most expensive since 2014 with the national average possibly more expensive than $3/gallon.

“We don’t expect higher gas prices to deter drivers this holiday season as many Americans are eager to travel,” said Meade.  “We typically find when pump prices increase, travelers look for more free activities or eat out less while on vacation, but still take their planned trips.”

Gas prices will be increasing in part due to higher demand. As demand increases, gas stations are working to adjust delivery schedules to keep pace. However, there have been instances where some stations are seeing low to no supply at pumps for a few days due to delayed deliveries. Over the holiday weekend, some gas stations in popular travel destinations—like beaches and mountain areas—may experience this situation. Currently, the Colonial Pipeline, which delivers 45% of fuel to the East Coast is offline due to a cyberattack, which will contribute to temporary price increases and limit fuel supply. This will affect areas from Mississippi to Tennessee and the east coast from Georgia into Delaware, but the owner of the pipeline gave a goal of substantially restoring operational service by the end of the week.

Letting your vehicle’s fuel tank run dry is more than just an inconvenience, it could also lead to costly mechanical problems down the road. AAA advises to keep an eye on your fuel level and fill up before arriving to your final destination. The AAA app can provide insight on gas prices and you can always call ahead to a station to confirm they are open for business.

Before hitting the road, AAA reminds motorists to plan their route in advance and ensure their vehicle is ready, to help avoid a breakdown along the way. AAA expects to rescue more than 468,000 Americans at the roadside this Memorial Day weekend.

AAA makes it easy to request assistance—by phone or text (1-800-AAA-HELP), app or online—and members can track the service technician’s progress as they make their way to your vehicle. Also, don’t leave home without an emergency roadside kit and continue to pack extra snacks or meals as well as cleaning supplies, including disinfecting wipes.