AAA forecasts that more than one-third of Americans will travel this holiday season.

The record-breaking 112.5 million travelers taking to the nation’s runways, roads and rails for the year-end holidays represents a 4.4 percent increase over last year and the most since AAA has been tracking holiday travel.

For the more than 102 million people who will pack up their cars for a holiday road trip, INRIX, a global mobility analytics company, predicts travel times in the most congested cities in the U.S. could be as much as four times longer than a normal trip.

“’Tis the season for holiday travel, and more Americans than ever will journey to spend time with friends and family or choose to take a vacation,” said Bryan Shilling, managing director of AAA Travel products and services. 

“Strong economic growth fueled by robust consumer spending continues to drive strong demand for seasonal travel,” Shilling added. “With a record-breaking one-third of the country choosing to travel this holiday, roadways and airports are sure to be busy.”

The year-end holiday travel period is defined as Dec. 22 through Jan. 1. The 11-day span is one day longer than last year, due to Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on Tuesdays.

By the numbers

• Automobiles – More Americans will travel by car this holiday season than ever before. The 102.1 million people expected to pack up their cars for road trips is 4.4 percent higher than last year. It is the most since AAA began tracking holiday travel in 2000.

• Planes – The 6.7 million people who will travel by air this year is the highest level in 15 years and is 4.2 percent more than last year.

• Trains, buses and cruise ships – Travel across these sectors will increase by 4 percent, with a total 3.7 million passengers.

Based on historical and recent travel trends, INRIX expects drivers to experience the greatest amount of congestion before the holiday week as commuters and holiday travelers mix on our nation’s busiest roadways. 

With a record-level number of travelers hitting the road this holiday, drivers must be prepared for delays in major metro areas, said Trevor Reed, transportation analyst at INRIX.

“Our advice is to avoid traveling during peak commuting hours. If schedules allow, leave bright and early or after the morning commute,"added Reed.

While gas has been relatively expensive throughout this year, a recent drop to the cheapest national gas price averages of the year, combined with rising disposable income, is motivating more Americans to hit the road this holiday season.

Gas prices averaged $2.46 for the first week of December, which is two cents per gallon less than one year ago. An analysis of AAA’s flight booking data from the last three years revealed that most holiday air travelers depart two or three days before Christmas and return the day after the holiday.

This holiday season Dec. 22, 23 and 26 will be the busiest days in the skies and at the airports. Fewer holiday travelers choose to fly on Christmas Eve (Monday, Dec. 24) and Christmas Day (Tuesday, Dec. 25), which are the lightest travel days around the Christmas holiday.

Most travelers booked their Christmas flights between Oct. 26 and Nov. 27, paying an average ticket price of $561 round trip. Holiday road trippers should budget slightly more for a rental car this year, as daily rates have increased 3 percent over last year.

At $76, the daily average car rental rate this holiday season is the most expensive it has been in 10 years.

AAA expects to rescue more than 960,000 motorists at the roadside this year-end holiday period. Dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires will be the leading reasons AAA members will experience car trouble. AAA recommends motorists take their vehicle to a trusted repair facility to perform any needed maintenance before heading out.

Oil changes, fluid level checks, battery tests and tire inspections can go a long way toward reducing the chances of a breakdown on the road.

Members who require roadside assistance can call the toll free number (800-222-4357, or contact AAA online at www.AAA.com. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 46 percent of all crashes involving bad weather take place during the winter.

AAA encourages drivers to be vigilant when hitting the road this winter and to always stay prepared by carrying an emergency roadside kit containing a mobile phone and car charger, first-aid kit, blankets, drinking water and snacks, a flashlight with extra batteries, a basic toolkit, warning flares, an ice scraper, jumper cables and a shovel.

Graphic courtesy of the National Weather Service.