This summer, AAA forecasts Americans will take 700 million trips based on economic indicators and state re-openings. That number is down nearly 15% compared to last July through September and is the first decline in summer travel since 2009. Regionally, travelers from Texas and surrounding states are forecasted to take nearly 79 million trips, a 13% decline compared to the same time period last year. AAA booking trends show Americans are making travel plans, though cautiously and more spur of the moment.
“Many Texans will get out and explore this summer though they’re taking a ‘wait and see approach’ when it comes to booking and are likely to book more long weekend getaways than extended vacations,” said Daniel Armbruster, AAA Texas spokesperson. “When they do venture out, the greatest share of travelers from the West-South Central region – 76.5 million - will take to the road to satisfy their wanderlust.”
Car trips reign supreme accounting for 97% of the favored mode of transportation. Car trips will also see the smallest decrease in travel volume of just 3% year-over-year. Nationally, air travel will be off by about 74%, while rail, cruise ship and bus travel will slide by 86%. Were it not for the pandemic, AAA would be projecting 857 million trips during the third quarter, a 3.6% increase over last year. By this analysis, the pandemic wiped out nearly 150 million person-trips this summer.
AAA travel experts have begun to see positive trends in travel, noting that hotel and rental car bookings have been gradually increasing since April. Air travel has been slower to rebound. The share of travelers making plans 48 hours to 7 days before departure – a sign that people are arranging last-minute trips – is significantly higher than normal.
Road Trips & Top TripTik Destinations
With travel restrictions lifting but social distancing still recommended, it’s no surprise that 97% of summer trips are road trips. That’s up from an average of 87% over the last five years. Road trips allow travelers to make their own schedule and customize stops based on comfort level and interests. For families, especially those with small children, it is an easy and less expensive way to travel. And an added benefit right now - gas prices remain low.
This summer, road trippers should plan their travel in advance using AAA TripTik – a tradition that has guided generations of road trippers with paper and digital maps. Plus, it now includes COVID-19 Travel Restriction updates.
“Beyond mapping your route in advance, it is important to book hotels and plan out gas and food stops. Also, keep in mind that some national parks and attractions have capacity limits, so if there is a must-do activity on your trip, you'll want to make arrangements for these in advance,” added Armbruster.
When it comes to TripTik destination searches, prominent cities that typically draw large crowds are not as popular. Orlando, FL has dropped from the top searched city destination to number eight while Denver, CO makes the biggest climb from number 10 to number one: (Data based on TripTik.AAA.com searches from March 15 – June 14, 2020)
- Denver, CO
- Las Vegas, NV
- Los Angeles, CA
- Seattle, WA
- Phoenix, AZ
- Portland, OR
- Myrtle Beach, SC
- Orlando, FL
- San Diego, CA
- Nashville, TN
For travelers looking to plan their Great American Road Trip, AAA recommends visiting https://www.aaa.com/roadtrips/.
Transportation forecaster INRIX is projecting that travelers to the Houston and Dallas areas will likely see lower traffic congestion than normal throughout the third quarter. Other metropolitan areas in the West that are expected to experience lower-than-normal traffic congestion this summer include San Francisco, Seattle and Phoenix.
National Gas Price Average
AAA expects the national gas price to average near $2.25/gallon for the third quarter of 2020, which will be a 15% decline from the $2.66 average seen last summer. This will be the cheapest summer for filling-up since 2016.
When at the pump, AAA recommends wearing disposable gloves or using a plastic sandwich bag to avoid touching the pump handle. When back in your car, be sure to clean your hands with sanitizer or wipes.
AAA Travel data shows that when top destinations, including Las Vegas, Orlando and NYC, were shut-down earlier in the year, bookings shifted to smaller destinations. As those top destinations begin to open, they are once again the top hotel destinations, though advance bookings in general are nearly 25% shorter than this time last year. Here are the top 10 most popular hotel destinations since mid-March based on AAA Travel bookings:
- Las Vegas
- San Diego
- New York City
- San Antonio
For road trips that require an overnight stay, look for hotels with a AAA Diamond designation. For extra confidence, look for Diamond hotels that display a AAA Inspector’s Best Of Housekeeping badge. Property inspections were completed prior to February. However, to meet the criteria for this award, these hotels have received top marks for housekeeping excellence for two consecutive inspections and are free of AAA member complaints.
“In light of COVID-19, AAA Texas is revising the inspection process used in its Diamonds Program,” said Armbruster. “The new criteria will reflect best practices for protecting the health of hotel guests, employees and AAA inspectors.”
Prior to your hotel stay, AAA recommends calling ahead to ensure your hotel is still open and asking about any restrictions or changes to the check-in process. It’s likely that the hotel has reduced the number of times guests have face-to-face interactions with other guests and hotel staff. When you check into your room, remember to wipe down surfaces with disinfecting wipes. Pay special attention to surfaces such as light switches, door knobs, faucets and remote controls.
Other Modes of Transportation
Other modes of transportation – cruises, buses and rail – have seen the most dramatic drop in travel volume. Most cruise lines have suspended all departures until at least August 1, with only limited offerings after that. AAA, however, has noted growing demand for departures in 2021.
Rail travel offers a unique way to see the country, and AAA offers a number of itineraries to explore iconic cities as well as the National Parks and beyond at AAA.com/vacations.
Know Before You Go
No matter how a traveler gets to their final destination, AAA recommends considering these points before you go:
- Check the CDC’s Covid-19 data tracker, municipal and state health departments and local news for updates on coronavirus cases and continue to do so while on the road.
- Visit AAA’s Covid-19 Travel Restrictions Map at TripTik.AAA.com for the latest state and local travel restrictions.
- Pack face coverings, gloves and cleaning supplies - like disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer - and a thermometer.
- Take all necessary travel documentation, including health insurance cards.
Because of the pandemic’s impacts on travel, AAA did not release Memorial or Independence Day travel forecasts. AAA’s Q3 projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Markit, a London-based business information provider. For the purposes of this forecast, the summer travel period is defined as July 1 through September 30. 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. The complete AAA/IHS Markit forecast is available here.