More travelers will be kicking off the holiday season with a Thanksgiving getaway this year than in the past 15 years, according to projections from AAA Colorado.

Nearly 930,000 Coloradans will journey 50 miles or more away from home this Thanksgiving, a 7 percent increase over last year. The 2018 travel period will see the highest Thanksgiving travel volume since 2005, with 63,000 more Coloradans taking to the nation’s roads, skies, rails and waterways than in 2017.

All told, 54.3 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home this Thanksgiving holiday, leading to potential travel times up to four times longer in America’s most congested cities.

The vast majority of Thanksgiving travelers in Colorado will hit the road. Some 810,000 Coloradans will travel by vehicle to a destination 50 miles or more from home — more than 8 percent more than last year.

“Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips, and 2018 will be no different,” AAA Colorado spokesman Skyler McKinley said.

Motorists can expect to pay the highest Thanksgiving gas prices in four years, with a national average of $2.63 as of Nov. 18 — nine cents more than a year ago.

- Advertisement -

In Colorado, the statewide average runs $2.73 for a gallon of regular, up 18 cents from this time last year. Motorists filling up in Vail will pay the most per gallon, at $3.20, while those passing through Colorado Springs will pay the least at $2.63.

“Motorists have become accustomed to this year’s more expensive gas prices and won’t let higher fuel costs deter them from taking Thanksgiving road trips,” McKinley said.

Historical data and recent travel trends suggest that drivers will experience the greatest amount of congestion Thanksgiving week during the early evening commute period, with travel times starting to increase on Monday.

“To skip the stress of sitting in traffic, avoid commuting times in major cities altogether or plan alternative routes,” McKinley said.

In Colorado, according to an analysis of historical data by INRIX, a transportation analytics firm, the following hotspots will be the worst for traffic throughout the Thanksgiving travel period, defined as Wednesday, Nov. 21 to Sunday, Nov. 25:

  • Southbound I-25 at Greenland Road (Exit 167);
  • Northbound I-25 at 84th Avenue (Exit 219);
  • Southbound I-25 at US-285 (Exit 201);
  • Southbound CO-2 at I-25;
  • Southbound I-25 at Spruce Mountain Road (Exit 173);
  • Northbound CO-121 at W. 64th Avenue;
  • Eastbound I-70 at Havana Street (Exit 280);
  • Westbound CO-470 at Platte Canyon Road;
  • Southbound I-225 at I-25 (Exit 1); and
  • Northbound I-25 at Plum Creek Parkway (Exit 181).

In most cases, the best days to travel will be Thanksgiving Day, Friday or Saturday. Drivers should expect increased travel times on Sunday as most holiday travelers will be making their way home after the long weekend.

AAA anticipates nearly 3,700 Colorado motorists will require roadside assistance during the travel period, up more than 4.5 percent from last year. Dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires will be the leading reasons.

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 go a long way toward reducing the chances of a breakdown.

Air travel

Nearly 60,000 Coloradans will travel by air for Thanksgiving, with 4.27 million Americans taking to the skies in total. That’s the most Thanksgiving air travel since 2007.

About the same number of Coloradans will board trains, buses and cruise ships for their holiday travel, joining the ranks of nearly 1.48 million Americans in total — a 1.4 percent increase from last year.

Across the country, air travelers will have to account for long security lines, but also increased drive times to the airport. Per INRIX and AAA data, delays to the nation’s busiest airports could be as long as an hour and a half during peak travel times.

Those heading to Denver International Airport should budget drive times from downtown to DIA via I-70 E and Peña Boulevard of 55 minutes or more.

An analysis of AAA’s flight booking data from the last three years showed that the Tuesday and Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving are the most popular air travel days and have the highest price per round-trip ticket, at an average of $508. Thanksgiving Day consistently has the lowest average price per ticket ($465) and is the lightest travel day.

AAA’s travel projections are based on economic forecasting and research by London-based IHS Markit.

The following economic factors influenced the travel forecast this year:

  • Economic growth remains strong and broad based, as real gross domestic product is slated to increase 3.1 percent year-over-year during the fourth quarter, and the national unemployment rate is expected to decrease to 3.7 percent.
  • Strong fundamentals continue to support high levels of consumer spending, with wages, disposable income and household wealth all increasing.
  • Consumer and corporate outlook measures remain positive. Consumer confidence has reached an 18-year high.
  • October gas prices were on average about 40 cents more than this time last year, which is in line with gas price trends seen throughout this year and otherwise accompanied by record-breaking travel figures.

The complete AAA/IHS Markit 2018 Thanksgiving holiday travel forecast is available here.