AAA Travel expects a significant rebound in the number of Americans and Washingtonians planning to travel this Memorial Day holiday weekend. From May 27 through May 31, more than 37 million people, close to 882,000 from Washington, are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home. That is an increase of 60% nationally and 66% in Washington from last year, but 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 nearly 6 million fewer Americans, 156,000 fewer Washingtonians, than in 2019. AAA urges those who choose to travel this year to exercise caution and take necessary 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 Kelly Just, spokesperson for AAA Washington. “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.”
By the numbers: 2021 Memorial Day holiday travel forecast
- Automobiles: The vast majority of travelers — 34 million Americans, 787,000 Washingtonians — will travel by car, an increase from last year of 52% and 54%, respectively.
- Planes: Year over year, air travel will experience the largest increases with nearly 6 times as many Americans (up 576%) and Washingtonians (up 584%) returning to the skies.
- Other: Nationwide and in Washington, travel by trains, buses and cruise ships is expected to increase by 28% but fall far short of 2019 numbers.
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.
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. 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 recent increases in online traffic and bookings on AAA.com, particularly for hotels and car rentals, heading into the summer travel season. Domestic travel and road trips remain the biggest drivers of travel recovery in the near term. AAA Washington booking data puts Denver and Las Vegas at the top of this year’s most popular Memorial Day destination lists.
AAA Washington Top Road Trips:
- Denver, CO
- Bozeman, MT
- Spokane, WA
- Boise, ID
- Salt Lake City, UT
AAA Washington Top Destinations:
- Las Vegas, NV
- Maui, HI
- Kona, HI
- Honolulu, HI
Drivers Beware: Worst Times to Hit the Road
INRIX predicts drivers will encounter the longest travel delays before the holiday weekend. In Washington, Thursday May 27 will be the most challenging day on the road. For example, an evening trip on I5 south from Federal Way to Tacoma could take more than 1.5 times the normal amount. Other traffic slowdowns are expected that same day in some of the usual trouble spots:
- I-405 north, Renton to Newcastle
- I-5 north Seattle to Lynnwood,
- I-5 south Lynnwood to Seattle/I90 exchange
- I-405 south, Kirkland to Renton
“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.”
Before Road Trips, Prep Your Car—And Your Wallet for Higher Gas Prices
For the 34 Million Americans, expected to travel by car this Memorial Day, AAA forecasts gas prices on the east coast to climb this week in reaction to the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline, which was stopped as a precaution following a cybersecurity attack. The impact of the pipeline closure will be seen regionally in Mississippi, Tennessee and along the east coast from Georgia into Delaware. While current gas prices around the Pacific Northwest are more than $1 higher than last year — when demand plummeted as much of the country was under stay-at-home orders — they are in line with or lower than prices seen in April 2019; WA $3.51, OR $3.35, ID $3.18.
There is sufficient gasoline supply in the U.S. (235.8 million barrels), but a shortage of qualified drivers of tanker trucks transporting gasoline and other fuels. As a result, there have been instances of stations 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.
“While this may affect a few stations in a market, we do not expect to see a market completely void of gasoline. There is ample supply in the United States to support summer demand. It’s a matter of a shortage of fuel truck drivers to make deliveries to meet growing demand,” added McGee.
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.
Regardless of how you plan to get to your destination, AAA advises travelers to seek the advice of a knowledgeable travel agent to help plan their trips this Memorial Day. To get started and to learn more, visit AAA.com/Travel.
AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Markit, a London-based business information provider. For the purposes of this forecast, the Memorial Day holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, May 27 through Monday, May 31. The five-day holiday period is consistent with previous Memorial Day holiday periods. This forecast was finalized during the week of April 12.
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. For the 2021 Memorial Day holiday travel forecast, IHS Markit also examined changes in the IHS Markit containment index regarding COVID‑19–related restrictions and activity.