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AAA: Holiday Travelers are Booking Earlier This Year

A new survey says the majority will finalize holiday travel plans before October

CHICAGO, Ill., (September 19, 2023) – Although the summer travel season just came to an end, Illinoisans are already beginning to lock in their travel plans for the holidays. In fact, according to a new AAA survey, over half (57%) of residents are already planning to take a holiday vacation and 54% are booking holiday travel plans earlier this year due to higher travel prices. Two-thirds of holiday travelers (66%) say they're planning at least one flight during the holiday season.

"Whether you plan to book a flight, cruise or visit a theme park, it's best to get ahead of the holiday rush and finalize your plans now," said Debbie Haas, Vice President of Travel for AAA – The Auto Club Group. "This will help ensure you get the itinerary you want at a competitive price. While it's possible that those who wait until the last minute could catch a lower rate, their preferred options may already be gone."

Thanksgiving Travel

More than three-fifths of Illinois travelers (62%) are planning a trip with at least one overnight stay for Thanksgiving and a large number (79%) will lock in their Thanksgiving travel plans by the end of October. View the survey

Tips for booking flights during Thanksgiving week

The busiest travel days will be Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday. Consider booking a flight Sunday or Monday before Thanksgiving and Saturday after the holiday. Airports should be less busy and flights should have more availability.

Christmas Travel

The timing is more spread out for Illinoisans who are planning a trip for Christmas. Only 7% have already finalized plans, as close to a fifth will wait until September (18%), with more waiting until October (28%), and November (21%) to book.

Tips for booking flights for Christmas

Regardless of what date Christmas falls on, most travelers depart two to four days prior to the holiday. Since Christmas Day falls on a Monday this year, travelers should expect the busiest days at the airport to be Friday and Saturday, before the holiday.

AAA's Advice for Booking a Flight

  • Book early for the best combination of availability and price. Most travelers want to skip layovers and get right to their destination. That means nonstop flights, especially those going cross-country and internationally, will fill up fast.
  • Book a direct flight that leaves early in the morning. Afternoon and evening flights are more susceptible to delays/cancellations due to weather or other unforeseen circumstances. Connecting flights multiply the risk of something going wrong.
  • Consider traveling a day or two earlier than planned. Even if you face delays, you are still likely to arrive on time.
  • If your flight has connections, build in a couple hours between flights. This way, if your first flight is delayed, you are less likely to miss your second one.

Flight Concerns

One-third of holiday travelers (33%) say they are less likely to fly this year because they're concerned about flight delays and cancellations. AAA urges travelers to consider travel insurance, which provides financial compensation if your flight is affected by covered reasons like severe winter weather, which can ruin your plans.

"Given recent challenges with air travel, we are seeing more and more passengers opt for travel insurance," Haas said. "Travel Insurance is such a valuable resource for air travelers, because it provides financial benefits for lost or delayed luggage, flight cancellations, and flight delays of as little as three hours."

More People are Gifting Experiences Instead of Presents

AAA travel advisors say they're seeing more people gift travel experiences to loved ones instead of presents. That means those people are already thinking about the holidays. "I just booked travel for one family who's surprising their children on Christmas morning with a trip to Disney World, leaving later that same day! That family was sure to book early to get exactly what they wanted," said Cady DeBlois, a travel advisor for AAA.

YOLO (You Only Live Once) is Replacing Bucket Lists

After three years of a pandemic, many travelers are tackling their bucket lists now! "I've had travelers tell me, I don't know what my health will be in 5 or 10 years, let's go abroad this year," said Jodi Abata, AAA travel advisor, who frequently books international trips for AAA members. "There seems to be a sense of adventure from more people now. They don't want to delay travel any longer."

Europe, Cruises, and Theme Parks Sell Out in Advance

European travel is booming this year, and the holidays will be no exception. AAA travel advisors say touring Christmas markets in Europe is extremely popular and itineraries sell out in advance. River cruises are also in high demand during the holidays, along with Caribbean cruises. Theme parks are a holiday favorite among families with kids when students are on winter break. DeBlois added, "I've already booked theme park vacations for Christmas 2024! That's how eager many families are to get their holiday plans on the books."

AAA will release its Thanksgiving Travel Forecast in early November.

About the Survey

The AAA Consumer Pulse™ Survey was conducted online among residents living in Illinois from August 1-7, 2023. A total of 400 residents completed the survey. Survey results asked of all respondents have a maximum margin of error of ± 4.9% points. Responses are weighted by age and gender to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the adult population (18+) in Illinois.