(This is a shortened version of a story we first wrote for NBC News)
This year’s post-pandemic travel boom is continuing into the holidays.
Nearly half (48%) of Americans plan to travel between Thanksgiving and mid-January, up from 31% last winter, a recent Deloitte survey found.
AAA expects 55.4 million travelers to venture at least 50 miles from home during the Thanksgiving period alone, a 2.3% increase from last year.
That means if you’re hitting the roads or the slopes this season, you’ll have lots of company. Here’s what to expect as you pack your bags for a winter getaway.
More affordable airfare
Airline ticket prices are falling even as more Americans intend to fly.
Deloitte found that 33% of holiday travelers plan to take a domestic flight, up from 29% last year. Despite the strong demand, airfares were more than 13% cheaper last month than at the same time a year ago, federal inflation data shows.
Airlines and aviation officials sound confident about handling the holiday crush. While major U.S. carriers — including American, Delta, and United — expect record passenger numbers this Thanksgiving, many are touting their readiness for the season.
Track records for flight cancellations and missing luggage have improved ahead of the holidays. About 1.7% of flights were canceled during the first eight months of this year. That’s much better than the 3.0% rate for the same eight-month period last year and 2.3% in the comparable stretch of 2019, the Department of Transportation reported.
And in August, the latest month with available data, the mishandled baggage rate dropped to 0.61% from 0.75% the month before.
A broader push to streamline and automate operations “will continue to help curb mishandling as we approach the holiday season,” said Nicole Hogg, head of baggage for SITA, an air transport IT company. But travel experts still suggest adding an AirTag or other digital tracking device to your luggage, especially during busy travel periods.
“Mother Nature will cause some number of cancellations, guaranteed,” said Scott Keyes, the founder of the airfare tracking site Going. But he noted that “cancellations caused by the airlines — the most galling for travelers — are at multiyear lows” and added that many carriers have bulked up on pilots, planes, and staff.
“The entire industry was snakebit from last year’s debacle,” Keyes said, “and airlines have adjusted their operations accordingly.”
Pricier hotel rooms
More holiday travelers plan to stay in hotels this holiday season instead of bunking with friends or family. Deloitte found that 56% plan to stay in hotels, a sharp jump from 35% in 2022.
That could push up room rates, which were already 0.8% pricier in October than the year before.
Jan Freitag, director of hospitality analytics at the commercial real-estate research company CoStar, said this season’s strong travel numbers will likely nudge Christmastime room rates above last year’s levels. In the first full week of November, they were up 4% in the U.S. from the same week a year ago, averaging $156 per night, CoStar said.
Price-conscious Christmas travelers might want to “book early to lock in lower rates, shorten their trips or trade down to a different class of service,” said Freitag, or else take their chances with last-minute reservations. Inventories will be slimmer in the eleventh hour, but hotels may still cut prices on unsold rooms.