Thanksgiving is a national day in the United States, celebrated on the fourth Thursday of every November.
A lot of travel is generated around this holiday as families of all types seek to gather together across the country.
The importance of Thanksgiving in the American holiday calendar is high, almost on a par to Christmas. It is an essential part of American culture, and foreigners are very aware of it thanks to its presence in most American media.
There are plenty of statistics and facts to analyze about travel during this time. Let’s take a look at the most intriguing numbers.
Thanksgiving Day Travel Stats Highlights
Thanksgiving dates back to 1619. The holiday was initially meant to commemorate the harvest and was created by pilgrims.
There are some controversial roots to the celebration, but nowadays, it’s more about family, found or otherwise.
This is what drives much of the travel around Thanksgiving, with friends and families wishing to come together to celebrate. Here’s an overview of some of the most significant Thanksgiving Day travel stats:
- It is best to travel either the Monday before or on the day itself, especially if flying. Ticket prices hit their lowest averages for the week on those two days ($486 and $454, respectively, for 2022).
- New York City gets the highest traffic congestion in metropolitan areas during Thanksgiving week, with the peak hitting at 158% increase over typical traffic.
- The holiday travel period for Thanksgiving tends to be from the Wednesday before to the Sunday after. Traveling before and after those days is always recommended.
- The busiest Thanksgiving Day travel corridors can be found on the highways surrounding Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, and Atlanta. They all have at least a 100% increase over normal traffic levels.
Thanksgiving Day Travel Demographics Stats
The people celebrating Thanksgiving are the ones creating both the travel and the need for it. Analyzing how they interact with this time can help shed more light on the importance of Thanksgiving travel.
The Number of Travelers Increased in 2022
After 53.4 million people traveled for Thanksgiving in the United States in 2021, even more, traveled in 2022. 54.6 million traveled during Thanksgiving in 2022, which made it the third-highest figure seen since 2000.
The highest came in 2005, when 58.6 million people traveled, while the second highest figure happened in 2018, with 54.3 million. This shows that people are ready and willing to keep up the tradition of traveling for Thanksgiving.
Women Prefer Traveling by Car
More women prefer traveling by car than men during Thanksgiving. 67.23% of women travel by car for the holiday, while only 43.06% of men do the same. 18.49% of women travel by plane and 4.62% travel by train. 32.99% of men choose planes, and 9.03% choose trains.
While these genders both choose cars as their top preferences, the data shows that women are more likely to choose the convenience of cars over the speed of planes.
Men Travel Further Than Women
Men travel an average of 882 miles for Thanksgiving. Women, in turn, travel around 636 miles. The difference between the two can perhaps be explained by men traveling more by plane and therefore covering more ground.
Gen X Is the Generation That Travels Most
When splitting the Thanksgiving Day travel by generation, numbers show that Gen X travels most during this holiday, with 41.2% of respondents.
Millennials follow at 33.2%, with baby boomers last at 25.4%. These three generations provide the most significant stats for Thanksgiving travel, which shows that age ranges from over 20 to 55 are traveling for Thanksgiving, regardless of the differences in percentages.
Gen Z Is Doing It Differently
(Source: Personal Capital)
32% of Gen Z respondents to the survey stated that they are likely to skip Thanksgiving in order to save money. These Gen Z respondents prefer Friendsgiving instead, which is a much more low-key event where the main meal can be pizza without anyone batting an eye.
This shows that Gen Zers are more likely to break away from tradition while focusing on saving money instead, whenever needed. Older generations have a different approach to Thanksgiving due to the traditional aspect and potentially the nostalgia associated with it.
Thanksgiving Day Travel Costs Stats
Thanksgiving travel brings many associated costs that impact how people interact with this holiday. With inflation hitting hard around the world, these same costs have been changing to reflect the economic climate. Let’s see what the numbers are telling us about travel costs during Thanksgiving.
Adults Are Traveling Less
In 2021, 37.42% of respondents stated they were not planning on traveling anywhere or gathering with family for Thanksgiving or Christmas.
15.19% said they were traveling for Thanksgiving. This data shows that adults are more likely to not spend traveling costs on holidays like Thanksgiving, either as a reaction to social, personal, or economic reasons.
Adults Spend $500 or Less on Thanksgiving Day Travel
44.46% of adults in the United States spend $500 or less on traveling for Thanksgiving. 35.41% choose to spend nothing, while 10.25% spend between $501 and $1000. 2.84% spend $2000 or more, and 2.01% spend between $1501 and $2000.
This shows that the majority of adults will spend as little as possible on travel, with a significant percentage opting to spend nothing and staying at home or gathering with family in the same area.
Prices Associated With Thanksgiving Travel Are Mostly Increasing
Thanksgiving travelers have become used to spending specific amounts during the holiday, but thanks to global inflation, rising prices will affect this too. Travelers who need to opt for a rental car will spend more, with prices reaching the highest record since 1999.
A rental car is currently $75 on average per day. Rooms at AAA Two Diamond Hotels have increased in price by 1%, but luckily AAA Three Diamond Hotels prices have dropped by 5%.
Inflation Levels Are Affecting Thanksgiving
(Source: The Vacationer)
Data shows that 25.02% of respondents claimed their Thanksgiving was affected by inflation.
They cited food and rising transport costs as the main issues. 24.73% said they were also affected by inflation, but only in regards to increased food costs, while 16.75% blamed only transport costs. 33.50% of Thanksgiving travelers said they weren’t affected by inflation during the holiday. Gas prices are behind most of these issues, as they affect food costs and travel costs.
Airline Travel Is More Expensive
Flights were 30% more expensive in 2022 than they were in 2021. The highest increases can be found in flights connecting New York to Atlanta, which are 44% higher. Following this surge are flights from Orlando to New York, which are 33% higher, and those from New York to Charlotte, which are 30% higher.
Thanksgiving Day Travel Transport Method Stats
Thanksgiving travel sees various transport methods come into play. Most people have a preferred one, but many change them depending on the benefits they offer each year. Let’s check out what preferred transport methods are during this holiday.
The Car Continues To Be the Favorite
Despite gas prices causing turmoil, the car remains the primary mode of transportation for 67.8% of Thanksgiving travelers.
This is far above no primary transport method at 18.02% and airplane at 10.52%. Public transport, including trains and buses, is at 3.66%. This shows the ongoing reliability of cars as a primary mode of transportation in the US.
49 Million Traveled by Car in 2022
Over 49 million people traveled over 50 miles for the 2022 Thanksgiving holiday. This was a 0.4% increase from the year before but 2.5% lower than the same timeframe in 2019.
Other methods of transport like planes, buses, trains, and cruises have also been used more than in 2020.
Thanksgiving Travelers Prefer Being on the Road on the Wednesday
The day before Thanksgiving is the most popular for travelers. 27.19% prefer traveling on the Wednesday before, while 25.86% prefer traveling on Thanksgiving Day.
The Monday before is also popular, with 24.14% of respondents opting for it, and the Tuesday before remains stable at 17.7%.
Gen X and Millennials Travel Over 800 Miles for Thanksgiving
In the generational leagues, millennials and Gen Xers have the monopoly over Thanksgiving mileage. Gen X adults travel the furthest, clocking 862.63 miles to get where they need to be for the holiday.
Millennials follow with an average of 852.91 miles traveled during Thanksgiving. This shows the commitment of these generations to traveling for the holiday.
Rideshares Are Gaining Popularity
With Thanksgiving travelers looking for more affordable and more eco-friendly options, rideshares are gaining momentum when it comes to traveling during the holiday.
In 2021, 2.66% of Thanksgiving travelers opted for a rideshare instead of a more traditional travel method.
Thanksgiving Day Preferred Dining Location Stats
The preferred dining locations for Thanksgiving will influence the amount of travel that will be done during the period. With so many people traveling across the country for Thanksgiving every year, data about their preferred dining during this timeframe is very insightful.
At Home Still Wins
Whether hosting the holiday or simply skipping the festivities, the preferred location for Thanksgiving dining continues to be at home, with 55% of respondents opting for it.
34% prefer dining at relatives’ homes, while 13% prefer being at a friend’s house. This shows that the traditional options continue to have some weight, and at home requires the least travel costs.
Volunteering Is Increasing
While Thanksgiving travelers are happy to travel to be with family or friends, they also do so to volunteer. 3% of American adults spend their Thanksgiving day volunteering at a homeless shelter, making sure people are fed.
Eating at Parades Is Another Option
Thanksgiving travelers can fully skip the meal at home by eating out while attending a parade during the day.
Most parades offer a variety of food stations where attendees can stop and treat themselves to holiday treats. Those far from home or those who aren’t in the mood to spend hours cooking can always use this as an alternative.
Many American Adults Dine Out for Thanksgiving
(Source: National Restaurant Association)
14 million American adults choose to bypass the need for making a feast by dining out with family or friends on the day.
Prices may be increasing in restaurants as well, but they take out the effort from the day while still allowing group gatherings to favorite locations.
Ordering Takeout Is a Classic Alternative
(Source: National Restaurant Association)
Data shows that 16 million American adults choose to get takeout for at least one meal during Thanksgiving. The convenience and general affordability of takeout add to the perks, especially for those who live in an urban area.
Getting takeout doesn’t mean a lack of travel during Thanksgiving. Travelers can gather at the homes of friends or family members and order takeout to remove the effort from the day.
Thanksgiving Day Air Travel Stats
Air travel is a traditional transport method for Thanksgiving travelers, especially for those who need to travel far away and for those with limited time off during the holiday. Let’s take a look at how air travel is affected by Thanksgiving travel.
The Busiest Airport on Thanksgiving Is in Atlanta
Based on the number of seats, the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) saw 154,000 passengers coming and going during Thanksgiving in 2021.
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) was second in line, with 103,000 passengers, and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) was third, with 101,000. Denver International Airport (DEN) was the only other US airport with over 100,000 passengers on Thanksgiving.
Airlines Operated Fewer Domestic Flights
For Thanksgiving 2022, US airlines decreased their domestic flights by 15% compared with the same time period in 2019.
This had the knock-on effect of making airfare more expensive. Holiday airfare is at its most expensive peak in the past five years,10% higher than the previous year.
This shows how Thanksgiving travelers plan their holiday, with many opting for other transport methods.
The Busiest Air Travel Day Since the Pandemic Happened in 2022
The pandemic had a significant impact on air travel, with statistics dropping during 2020. In 2022, the Sunday after Thanksgiving was the busiest air travel day recorded since before the pandemic hit. Over 460,000 people were due to return home that day after the Thanksgiving fun.
Few Flights Were Canceled During Thanksgiving 2022
During the Thanksgiving period in 2022, less than 1% of flights were canceled. This avoided a lot of travel chaos and having to pay more out of pocket. 25% of flights were delayed during Thanksgiving week, which is similar to what happened in 2019.
Inflation Is Now the Biggest Challenge for Thanksgiving Air Travel
With Thanksgiving airfare at its highest, an average round-trip during this timeframe is at least $325. Those wishing to travel internationally will also encounter higher prices, with a 16% increase from 2020 and a 24% increase from 2019.
International air travel round-trips average at around $828. With inflation as it is, air travel could see itself affected during future Thanksgivings.
What Is the Most Crowded Traffic Time During Thanksgiving?
Traffic tends to be a problem during Thanksgiving, especially on the Wednesday before and the Sunday after. The peak time for traffic is on the Wednesday before, between 11 am and 8 pm. If possible, Thanksgiving travelers opting to drive should avoid this time as much as possible.
What Is the Busiest Travel Day During Thanksgiving?
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is usually the busiest travel day of the whole year, even when compared with Christmas. 45% of those traveling by plane tend to fly out that day. The Sunday after is a busier day for airlines, at 57% of passengers, but the percentage evens out due to less driving that day.
Why Do Thanksgiving Travelers Rent Cars?
Even if they have their own cars, Thanksgiving travelers may opt for a rental anyway. 62% have said that they prefer renting a car to avoid wear and tear during travel on their own vehicle. This extra layer of convenience is good to keep in mind for those looking to road trip during the holiday.
Traveling on Thanksgiving can be chaotic, but many continue to embark on journeys during the holiday. The travel industry is boosted by this tradition, especially after the pandemic.
Most travelers still opt for driving above all other transport methods, but many are fans of public transport like buses or trains. For alternatives, rideshares are becoming more popular, and car rentals are good options even for those with cars at home.
Amar was born and raised in England and embarked on an 11-country round-the-world gap year after graduation and then became well and truly hooked. The first gap year inspired a second, which ended up being a 23-country down-the-world trip from Canada to Antarctica. Since then, Amar has spent the last 14 years traveling the 7 continents.