Nearly 43 million Americans will start their summers on a high note with a Memorial Day weekend getaway. This long holiday weekend, marking the unofficial start of summer vacation season, will see the second-highest travel volume on record since AAA began tracking holiday travel volumes dating back to 2000, trailing only the bar set in 2005. Overall, an additional 1.5 million more people will take to the nation’s roads, rails and runways compared with last year, a 3.6% increase.
Despite a rising national gas price average that is inching closer to the $3 per gallon mark, the vast majority of holiday travelers will drive to their destinations. For these motorists, INRIX, a global transportation analytics company, expects travel delays on major roads could be more than three times longer than normal during evening commutes.
By the numbers: 2019 Memorial Day holiday travel forecast
- Automobiles: The vast majority of travelers – 37.6 million – will hit the road, the most on record for the holiday and 3.5% more than last year.
- Planes: 3.25 million people will take to the skies, 4.8% more than last year, second only to 2005.
- Trains, Buses and Cruise Ships: Travel across these sectors will increase by 3.8% to 1.9 million passengers.
Drivers beware: Worst times to hit the road
For the 37.6 million Americans traveling by automobile, INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts drivers will experience the greatest amount of congestion on Thursday, May 24 and Friday, May 25 in the late afternoon as commuters leave work early and mix with holiday travelers. Several major U.S. metros could experience double the travel times compared to a normal trip, while New Yorkers and Washington, D.C., could see three times the delay.
“Drivers in the most congested metros should expect much worse conditions than normal,” said Trevor Reed, transportation analyst, INRIX. “Travelers should anticipate delays to start on Wednesday and continue through Memorial Day. Our advice to drivers is to avoid the morning and evening commuting times or plan alternate routes.”
|Metro Area||Worst Day for Travel||Worst Time for Travel||Delay Multiplier of Normal Trip|
|Atlanta||Thursday, May 23||4:30 – 6:30 PM||2.2x|
|Boston||Monday, May 27||3:45 – 5:45 PM||3.0x|
|Chicago||Friday, May 24||3:30 – 5:30 PM||1.6x|
|Detroit||Friday, May 24||2:30 – 4:30 PM||1.7x|
|Houston||Sunday, May 26||2:15 – 4:15 PM||1.0x|
|Los Angeles||Friday, May 24||4:30 – 6:30 PM||1.0x|
|New York||Thursday, May 23||4:45 – 6:45 PM||2.0x|
|San Francisco||Saturday, May 25||1:00 – 3:00 PM||1.6x|
|Seattle||Monday, May 27||3:30 – 5:30 PM||1.0x|
|Washington, D.C.||Monday, May 27||3:45 – 5:45 PM||3.0x|
Higher gas prices won’t keep holiday travelers home
Gas prices have increased by more than 30 cents in the last two months with the national average approaching $3 per gallon ($2.86 on May 14, 2019), which is relatively on par with prices this time last year ($2.87 on May 14, 2018). However, 88% of travelers will choose to drive to their Memorial Day destinations this year, the most on record.
“When gas prices are higher, travelers may shorten the distance of a road trip, eat out less or look for free activities,” continued AAA Kansas’ Steward. “But, overall, prices are very similar to this time last year and, like then, they aren’t letting that deter them from taking summer road trips.”
Travelers to see relief in lower hotel and car rental costs
While road trippers are paying more to fill up their vehicles at the gas pump, some of that additional expense can be made up with lower prices on car rentals and hotels this Memorial Day. According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, car rental prices have declined 7% compared with last year, with an average daily rate of $55. Mid-range hotels are between 2% and 3% cheaper this year, with an average nightly rate of $146 and $183, respectively, for AAA Two and Three Diamond Rated properties. Meanwhile, airfares are holding steady compared with last Memorial Day, for an average roundtrip price of $171.
Top Memorial Day travel destinations
Orlando, New York City and Las Vegas can expect an influx of travelers for the holiday. These are the top destinations in the U.S. this Memorial Day weekend, based on advance AAA Travel bookings:
- Orlando, Florida
- New York, New York
- Las Vegas, Nevada
- Honolulu, Hawaii
- Anaheim, California
- Seattle, Washington
- Phoenix, Arizona
- Anchorage, Alaska
- Tampa, Florida
- San Francisco, California
For those travelers planning an international vacation for Memorial Day, Europe is the destination of choice. Rome, London, Dublin and Paris are the most popular locales for international vacations this Memorial Day weekend, with Vancouver, Canada, rounding out the top five.
According to Hertz, a more than 40-year AAA partner, the busiest airport pick-up locations for travelers renting a car this Memorial Day are expected to be Orlando (MCO), Los Angeles (LAX), Denver (DEN), Las Vegas (LAS), and San Francisco (SFO). The busiest day for rental pick-ups is expected to be Friday, May 24, with an average rental length of nearly five days, as travelers look to take advantage of the long holiday weekend.