AAA forecasts fewer travelers for Thanksgiving 2020 amid pandemic

A car driving through orange autumn foliage

Thanksgiving is traditionally about families traveling to be together, but the COVID-19 pandemic has upended that.

With health and government officials stressing that staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick, AAA anticipates at least a 10% drop in travel – the largest 1-year decrease since the Great Recession in 2008. That would mean about 50 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more between Wednesday, November 25 and Sunday, November 29.

For Americans who make the personal decision to travel for Thanksgiving, it is important to know the risks involved and ways to keep yourself and others safe. In addition to CDC guidance, travelers should also be aware of local and state travel restrictions, including testing requirements and quarantine orders.

  • Plan ahead. Check with state and local authorities where you are, along your route, and at your destination to learn about conditions and restrictions.
  • Following public health guidance. Consistent use of face masks, social distancing (at least 6 feet), and handwashing are the best ways to lower your risk of getting COVID-19.
  • Verify before you go. Call ahead to minimize last-minute surprises at hotels and other venues.

AAA's forecast by the numbers

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Travelers by automobile:

47.8 million

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Travelers by air:

2.4 million

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Travelers by train or other:


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National average gas price for regular as of Nov. 10:


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Projected decrease in travelers in 2020 vs. 2019:

-5.5 million

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Total expected reduction in Thanksgiving travel:


The factors that affect the forecast

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Economy still recovering

While the economy is growing compared to earlier in the year, it's projected to be weaker compared to the same period in 2019

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Income, employment down

Unemployment has more than doubled from Q4 of 2019, and disposable income has fallen despite help from stimulus measures

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The pandemic continues

Concerns about possibly spreading illness to friends and family will lead many people to stay home

Road traffic forecast for major cities, according to INRIX

Based on historical trends for the Thanksgiving holiday, transportation analytics company INRIX predicts drivers will experience the most holiday traffic in the late afternoon on Wednesday, November 25, with congestion up to 30% higher than normal pandemic traffic. 


Worst day for travel:
Wednesday, Nov. 25
Peak congestion:
3:30 p.m.


Worst day for travel:
Wednesday, Nov. 25
Peak congestion:
3:15 p.m.


Worst day for travel:
Wednesday, Nov. 25
Worst time for travel:
4 p.m.


Worst day for travel:
Wednesday, Nov. 25
Peak congestion:
4 p.m.


Worst day for travel:
Wednesday, Nov. 25
Peak congestion:
3:45 p.m.

Los Angeles

Worst day for travel:
Wednesday, Nov. 25
Peak congestion:
5:30 p.m.

New York City

Worst day for travel:
Wednesday, Nov. 25
Peak congestion:
3:45 p.m.

San Francisco

Worst day for travel:
Wednesday, Nov. 25
Peak congestion:
3:45 p.m.

Washington, D.C.

Worst day for travel:
Friday, Nov. 27
Peak congestion:
11:45 a.m.

Battey check

What it means for you

AAA Travel predicts more than 47 million automobile travelers will account for about 94% of all Thanksgiving holiday weekend trips.

With so many on the road, it’s no surprise this is a busy time for AAA Roadside Assistance. AAA expects to rescue more than 413,000 motorists this Thanksgiving. Want to avoid being one? Here’s what you can do:

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Get your battery checked

If your battery is more than 3 years old, don’t risk getting stranded. Have it tested with AAA Battery Service, which will come directly to you. Learn more about AAA Battery Service.

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Check your tire pressure

Improperly inflated or unevenly worn tires can lead to sudden blowouts, especially in hot weather. Not sure what to look for? Check out AAA's guide to maintaining your tires.

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Bring a spare key

Despite the wide adoption of wireless “smart” keys, AAA hasn't seen a significant reduction in lockout calls. A backup key can’t prevent a lockout, but it can make it much easier to resolve.

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Get a checkup

Dead batteries and flat tires are most common, but AAA tows lots of vehicles with unforeseen engine, transmission, and brake issues. Not sure where to go? Consider a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility.

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Pack an emergency kit

Every vehicle should have a kit with a phone charger, flashlight, first-aid kit, tire pressure gauge, adjustable wrench, windshield washer solution, jumper cables, emergency flares or reflectors, drinking water, and snacks.

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Get the Auto Club App

The Auto Club App makes it simple to map a route, find low gas prices, request Roadside Assistance, or find an Approved Auto Repair facility. Learn more about the Auto Club App.

COVID-19 Tracking Map
COVID-19 travel restrictions

Get state-to-state travel information as it relates to border crossings, travel restrictions, and quarantine mandates.

Learn more

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Prevent wear & tear by renting from Hertz

Instead of putting extra miles on your vehicle, rent from Hertz. AAA members get all sorts of benefits when booking with Hertz, including discounts of up to 20% off base rates.

Members also get the peace of mind that comes with Hertz's Gold Standard Clean, a 15-point sanitizing process for all rental vehicles. 

See details and current promotions
Learn more about Hertz's Gold Standard Clean

AAA Travel alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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