Even among a hazy outlook colored by concerns about inflation, a softening economy and a stark jump in both seasonal illnesses and COVID-19, Coloradans are clear on one thing: Thanksgiving travel is back.
That’s per AAA’s latest travel forecast, which found that 951,000 Coloradans will travel 50 miles or more for Thanksgiving. That’s 26,000 (2.8 percent) more Colorado travelers than last year’s holiday, and just 7,000 (0.73 percent) fewer than 2019, which remains the statewide record.
These Coloradans will join the ranks of 54.6 million Americans on the roads and at the airports, just below pre-pandemic levels, with Colorado travel rebounding slightly higher than the national average.
“Travel is roaring back from the pandemic,” said Skyler McKinley, regional director of public affairs for AAA. “Facing high gas prices, other inflationary pressures and a wobbly economy, travel spending still hit its highest point since the pandemic began. AAA expects busy roads and long lines at the airport, so give yourself extra early and be as flexible as you can with your travel plans.”
89 percent of holiday travelers will drive
Despite a year of staggeringly high gas prices, 89 percent of all Thanksgiving travelers will drive. AAA forecasts 48.65 million Americans will set out for a holiday road trip, in an increase of 203,000 drivers more than last year.
In Colorado, 841,000 folks will take to the roads in a slight increase over 2021.
Colorado Gas Prices Stabilize
Pump prices are trending downward in Colorado, though some regionalized spikes are expected around the Thanksgiving holiday.
Last week, Colorado drivers paid an average price of $3.45 per gallon – well below the national average of $3.76. Colorado gas prices currently sit about a nickel less than last year, although they’ve increased about 60 cents over 2019.
Prices are lowest in Greeley, at $3.30 per gallon, and at their highest in Vail, at $3.99.
Busiest Days to Travel
Drivers hitting the road for the holidays are encouraged to leave early. Expect much heavier than normal congestion Monday-Wednesday afternoon and early evening.
Traffic will be lighter during the morning and late evening hours and on Thanksgiving Day.
Wednesday – Worst time: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Best time: before 8 a.m., after 8 p.m.
Thursday – Worst time: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Best time: before 11 a.m. after 6 p.m.
Friday – Worst time: 4 p.m.-8 p.m. Best time: before 11 a.m., after 8 p.m.
Saturday – Worst time: 4 p.m. -8 p.m. Best time: before 2 p.m., after 8 p.m.
Sunday – Worst time: 4 p.m.-8 p.m. Best time: before 11 a.m., after 8 p.m.
AAA to Rescue 411,000 Stranded Motorists
More than 411,000 drivers will need AAA roadside assistance during the holiday weekend.
The most common calls will relate to dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts.
AAA encourages drivers to get a full vehicle inspection before they hit the road to check everything from the tires up - including oil, the air filter, and wiper blades.
“Move Over for Me”
With more folks hitting the roads, the danger is multiplied for those at the roadside.
AAA reminds motorists to slow down and move over for first responders and tow trucks, as is required by Colorado law. You should extend the same courtesy to folks with disabled vehicles.
“Every single holiday traveler, tow truck driver, first responder, and road crew deserves to make it home safely this Thanksgiving,” McKinley said. “Saving a life is as easy as slowing down and moving over whenever you see any flashing hazard lights at the roadside.”
Air Travel Nears Pre-Pandemic Levels
Thanksgiving travelers should expect long lines at the airport. Across the country, air travel is up nearly 8 percent more than last year - with 4.5 million Americans flying to their Thanksgiving destinations.
That’s an increase of more than 33,000 air passengers and nearly 99 percent of the 2019 volume.
Flight delays and cancellations won’t be uncommon, with winter weather, staffing challenges and strong demand coming together to create a hectic travel environment.
Tips for Air Travelers:
• Check in early online.
• Monitor your flight status using your air carrier’s mobile app.
• Arrive 2-3 hours before your scheduled departure.
• Pack medications and an extra set of clothes in your carry-on bag, just in case your flight is delayed or cancelled.
Tips for Air Travelers Who Haven’t Booked Yet:
• Book a flight that leaves early in the day. Flights in the afternoon and evening are more susceptible to delays and cancellations.
• Book a direct flight. Otherwise, build in extra time between connections - in case your first flight is delayed.
• Consider traveling on Thanksgiving Day. This could offer the best combination of availability and price.
Travel Prices: Mostly Higher
• Airfares cost 22 percent more than last year: The lowest round-trip airfare costs $166 vs. $135 in 2021.
• Hotels cost 17 percent more than 2021: A mid-range AAA Three Diamond Property will run $218 per night, up from $187 last year.
• Car Rentals cost 7 percent less, with an average daily rate of $90.