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The Heat is On: Memorial Day Forecast Points to Sizzlin’ Summer Travel

Bill Stephens

May 23rd, 2022

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AAA expects 39.2 million people will travel for the unofficial start of summer

The unofficial start to summer will be a busy one this year as AAA predicts 39.2 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home this Memorial Day weekend. This is an increase of 8.3% over 2021, bringing travel volumes almost in line with those in 2017. Air travel continues to rebound, up 25% over last year, the second-largest increase since 2010. With volumes closing in on pre-pandemic levels, AAA urges travelers to book now and remember flexibility is key this Memorial Day weekend.

“Based on our projections, more Americans will be taking to the roads and skies this Memorial Day weekend than in the last several years,” said Bevi Powell, senior vice president, AAA East Central. “People are looking forward to that special trip spending time with family and friends.”

Air travel volume, which began to rally last Thanksgiving, will hit levels just shy of 2019 with 3 million people expected to take to the skies this Memorial Day weekend. In fact, the percentage of people traveling by air will surpass the 2019 levels of 7.5% with 7.7% of travelers choosing air travel as their preferred mode. 

East South Central Region Memorial Day Forecast Highlights:
*Region includes Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Method of TravelTotal TravelersIncrease from 2021
Automobile1.7 million3.9%
Air travel198,00020.6%
Other (bus, train, ship, etc.)53,000195.0%
Region Total1.9 million7.3%


How to Travel Stress-Free This Summer

Memorial Day weekend is expected to be the busiest in two years, building on an upward trend that began earlier this spring. This year’s forecast marks the second-highest single-year increase in travelers since 2010 (2021 was the highest), bringing volumes almost in line with pre-pandemic levels. Despite historic gas prices breaching the $4 mark in early March, 34.9 million people plan to travel by car, up 4.6% over last year. A greater portion of travelers are opting for air and other modes of travel than in previous years. Car travel fell from 92.1% last year to 88.9% this year, a slight indication that higher prices at the pump are having an impact on how people choose to travel this Memorial Day. Regardless of which mode they choose, travelers should prepare for a busy holiday weekend.

Plan, plan and then plan some more. Book travel plans now – the earlier the better to lock in the best rate and any discounts for pre-paying in full. Flights, car rentals, accommodations, tours, cruises and other activities are in high demand and availability is filling up. Prices are already skewing higher, and with greater demand, finding last-minute deals is unlikely. AAA finds:

  • Air—The average lowest airfare is 6% more than last year at $184/ticket with Saturday being the most expensive day to fly and Monday the least.
  • Hotels—Mid-range hotel rates have increased about 42%, with the average lowest nightly rates ranging between approximately $199 – $257/night for AAA Approved Hotels.
  • Car Rentals—Daily car rental rates have decreased 16% compared to last year, with the average lowest rate coming in at $100/day.

Based on AAA booking data, Thursday is shaping up to be the busiest day for air travel during the Memorial Day travel period (May 26 – May 30) with Monday being the lightest. For those hitting the road, Thursday and Friday are anticipated to be peak traffic days. AAA suggests reducing stress by:  

  • Arriving at the airport at least two hours early for domestic flights and three hours for international.
  • Booking a flight during non-peak travel periods to cut down on wait times.
  • Hitting the road when there is less traffic and allowing extra travel time.

For the 34.9 million Americans hitting the road, it’s always advisable to get vehicles road-trip ready with a full vehicle inspection. AAA expects to respond to over 388,000 calls for help over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Have key vehicle components checked like the battery, fuel system, tires, brakes and fluid levels and make sure to have a fully-stocked vehicle emergency kit.

Roads Will Be Busy

INRIX predicts drivers will encounter the longest travel delays before the holiday weekend, particularly during the afternoons on Thursday, May 26 and Friday, May 27. Drivers in major U.S. metros could experience double the travel times compared to a normal trip.

“Even with a significant increase in gas prices, we expect a large jump in holiday driving compared to the last few years”, says Bob Pishue, Transportation Analyst, INRIX. “Drivers should expect congestion on major roadways around big cities and popular destinations. Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic.”

Daily Worst and Best Times to Travel
DayWorst TimeBest Time
Thursday1:00-8:00pmBefore 6:00am or After 9:00pm
Friday12:00-7:00pmBefore 7:00am or After 9:00pm
Saturday1:00-6:00pmBefore 10:00am
Sunday1:00-4:00pmBefore 10:00am
Monday1:00-4:00pmBefore 11:00am

Source: INRIX

Remember Travel Essentials

At the start of planning any trip, AAA reminds travelers not to forget the essentials – work with a trusted travel advisor and investigate travel insurance. A travel advisor can easily look at a variety of options and scenarios to find savings not always available to the public. Plus, if something goes wrong, they are able to handle the logistics of changing or re-booking reservations.

AAA also highly recommends travel insurance to cover unexpected delays or trip interruptions. Travel insurance provides a safety net should something unexpected happen ahead of or during a trip. Travel advisors can also advise on what travel insurance policy makes the most sense and will take into account individual needs and budgets.

Big Cities and Beaches are Top Destinations

AAA booking data reveals that big cities and beaches are top destinations this Memorial Day, both domestically and abroad:

2022 Top Memorial Day Destinations
U.S DestinationsInternational Destinations
Orlando, FLVancouver, Canada
Seattle, WADublin, Ireland
Miami, FLParis, France
Las Vegas, NVRome, Italy
Anaheim, CALondon, England
New York, NYCancun, Mexico
Denver, COAmsterdam, Netherlands
Anchorage, AKBarcelona, Spain
Boston, MANassau, Bahamas
Honolulu, HICalgary, Canada


Remember: Stay Safe and Patient

While most COVID-19 restrictions have eased, it is important to keep safety in mind. Also, with a busy travel season, it’s easy to lose patience but everyone has a common goal – getting to their destination safely. For those looking to take a few extra precautions, AAA recommends:

  • Traveling with family and friends. This type of travel rose to popularity during the pandemic when many opted to vacation with people who were close contacts. Consider traveling with a group trip to divvy up costs including activities and accommodations. If everyone is spread out, a travel advisor can help manage the logistics.
  • Cleanliness is key. When booking a place to stay, look for accommodations that prioritize cleanliness and have implemented additional housekeeping standards since the start of the pandemic. In 2021, AAA enhanced its housekeeping evaluation to include objective, scientific validation of the cleanliness of common surfaces throughout hotels. Hotels that meet these new standards are now recognized as Inspected Clean. Look for this designation or to browse all of AAA’s Diamond properties, click here.
  • Follow safety guidelines. Everything from airports to restaurants to attractions will be busier this Memorial Day, which means more people congregating. AAA advises travelers to follow CDC guidance, which at this time, is still recommending that people wear masks in indoor public transportation settings (airports, bus/train terminals, public transportation like subways/metros, airplanes, trains and buses).     

Forecast Methodology:

In cooperation with AAA, IHS Markit– a world leader in critical information, analytics and expertise — developed a unique methodology to forecast actual domestic travel volumes. The economic variables used to forecast travel for the current holiday are leveraged from IHS Markit’s proprietary databases. These data include 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. AAA and IHS Markit have quantified holiday travel volumes going back to 2000.

Historical travel volume estimates come from DK SHIFFLET’s TRAVEL PERFORMANCE/Monitorsm. The PERFORMANCE/Monitorsm is a comprehensive study measuring the travel behavior of U.S. residents. DK SHIFFLET contacts over 50,000 U.S. households each month to obtain detailed travel data, resulting in the unique ability to estimate visitor volume and spending, identify trends, and forecast U.S. travel behavior —all after the trips have been taken. 

The travel forecast is reported in person-trips. In particular, AAA and IHS Markit forecast the total U.S. holiday travel volume and expected mode of transportation. The travel forecast presented in this report was prepared the week of April 11, 2022.

About INRIX
INRIX is the global leader in connected car services and transportation analytics. Leveraging big data and the cloud, INRIX delivers comprehensive services and solutions to help move people, cities and businesses forward. INRIX’s partners are automakers, governments, mobile operators, developers, advertisers, as well as enterprises large and small.

AAA East Central is a not-for-profit association with 72 local offices in Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia serving 2.7 million members.  News releases are available at news.eastcentral.aaa.com.  Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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