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It's Going to Be the Busiest Memorial Day for Travel Since 2005

Around 40 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this Memorial Day weekend — the highest Memorial Day travel volume since 2005.
Holidaymakers and tourists sunbathe on the beach on a hot summer day in Nice
Holidaymakers and tourists sunbathe on the beach on a hot summer day. REUTERS/Sebastien Nogier

Almost 40 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more away from home this Memorial Day weekend, according to AAA’s annual forecast for the holiday.

That’s one million more travelers than last year, and the highest Memorial Day travel volume since 2005.

“The expected spike mirrors the positive growth seen throughout the travel industry this year,” said Bill Sutherland, AAA senior vice president, Travel and Publishing. “Higher confidence has led to more consumer spending, and many Americans are choosing to allocate their extra money on travel this Memorial Day,” he added.

AAA expects 34.6 million Americans (88.1 percent of holiday travelers) to drive to their destinations this year. That’s an increase of 2.4 percent over last year, despite the fact that motorists will be paying the highest Memorial Day gas prices since 2015 and an average of $66 per day for a rental car; up 7 percent over last year.

For flyers, AAA’s Leisure Travel Index found average Memorial Day weekend airfares for the top 40 domestic flights are up 9 percent over last year, with an average round trip ticket hovering at $181.

Still, AAA expects 2.9 million Americans to fly to their destinations over this holiday weekend; an increase of 5.5 percent over last year.

When travelers arrive at their destinations this holiday weekend, they’ll also be paying more for a place to stay. The average rate at a AAA Three Diamond Rated hotel is $215 this holiday weekend, up 18 percent over last year.

Where Is Everyone Going?

78 percent of Americans who will travel for the long weekend are heading out of state, having booked their trips in April and May, according to data from Priceline.

Cancun, Mexico tops the list of Priceline’s trending destinations, with an almost 40 percent increase in bookings, year over year, for the holiday weekend. Bookings are also up for Jacksonville and Tampa in Florida; Myrtle Beach in South Carolina; plus Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

And while most holiday travelers are taking road trips, AAA’s Top Ten bookings shows that, after Orlando, many Memorial Day weekend travelers are heading overseas to perennial favorites such as Rome, London, and Dublin.

Steer Clear of Holiday Congestion

To avoid spending too much of the holiday weekend in bumper-to-bumper traffic, AAA recommends motorists avoid traveling through major cities during peak travel times. (Makes sense.)

“If your schedule permits, consider traveling on the holiday itself, when there is often less congestion and fewer crowds,” said AAA spokeswoman Julie Hall. “However, with 34.6 million people traveling by car over Memorial Day weekend, drivers should plan for crowded highways, remember to pack their patience, and allow plenty of extra time to get to their destinations safely.”

The Transportation Security Administration urges those traveling by air this Memorial Day weekend to arrive early, review the rules for going through security checkpoints, and keep in mind that 50 automated screening lanes are now operating at some of the nation’s busiest airports, including Newark Liberty International, Chicago O’Hare, JFK International, Los Angeles International and Hartsfield-Jackson International, with more on the way.

“These lanes are state-of-the-art in advancing security effectiveness, increasing efficiency, and improving the passenger experience,” notes the TSA.

The busy Memorial Day weekend also offers airlines a chance to make good on their newly minted promises to improve customer service after a spate of nightmare incidents ranging from a bloodied passenger being dragged off an overbooked United Airlines flight to punches being thrown at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport after cancellations of Spirit Airlines flights.

And, for those who haven’t made plans to get out of town yet, consider heading away from the crowds.

“While most people are booking beach destinations, you should use the long holiday weekend to visit a city you’ve had on your bucket list, like San Francisco or New York,” said Mark Koehler, SVP of Hotels at Priceline. “These cities are typically clear of locals who have departed for nearby nature or beach destinations themselves, leaving plenty of room for visitors.”