TripIt Data: Thanksgiving 2021 Travel Volume Nearly Triple 2020

As the first Thanksgiving approaches since vaccine rollouts began in the United States, we were eager to dig into TripIt reservation data to see if we should expect yet another highly traveled holiday. And what we found is that cooling U.S. concerns around the Delta variant paired with increasing traveler optimism could make for the most highly trafficked holiday since the pandemic began.

By: TRIPIT, for more on on the numbers, click here.

As the first Thanksgiving approaches since vaccine rollouts began in the United States, we were eager to dig into TripIt reservation data to see if we should expect yet another highly traveled holiday. And what we found is that cooling U.S. concerns around the Delta variant paired with increasing traveler optimism could make for the most highly trafficked holiday since the pandemic began.

TripIt analyzed U.S. origin lodging, rental car, and flight reservations made by our TripIt users for Thanksgiving travel and compared the findings to equivalent booking periods in 2020 and 2019. 

Our data shows Thanksgiving 2021 travel will be nearly triple the volume of last year across most categories, and while still not quite at pre-pandemic levels, flight (52% vs. 2019), lodging (65% vs. 2019), and vacation rental (59% vs. 2019) volumes are at the highest rates we’ve seen for holiday travel this year.

We also found that Americans are starting to return to their more usual holiday destinations and more usual stay lengths.

One third of travelers plan to fly in the two days preceding Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving travelers fall into two groups—those that make a week of it, and those who just dip in for the holiday. And more travelers fall in the latter group, with 33% of flight departures booked for the Tuesday (16%) and Wednesday (17%)—Wednesday being the most popular travel day—before Thanksgiving. Though, only slightly less will leave the Friday (14%) or Saturday (15%) before the holiday week and stick around.

As for the least popular day to travel? No surprise there: It’s Thanksgiving Day itself (just 7% of travelers).

And while all airports can expect to be busy (more on that below), there are some that will be busier than others: San Francisco International Airport (SFO) ranks #1, followed by Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) (#2), Denver International Airport (DEN) (#3), Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)(#4), and Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) (#5).

Flight reservations hovered at around 50% of pre-pandemic levels during the holidays this past year, but for Thanksgiving they are at their highest level—52% when compared to 2019. Same goes when looking at domestic and international flight reservations separately—54% and 44%, respectively. However, when comparing flight volumes to 2020 levels, we see nearly triple the volume. This isn’t entirely surprising to us as 19% of respondents in our recent survey told us they were planning to travel for Thanksgiving, and nearly 50% said they were planning to fly.

While the act of traveling might look a bit different than it did pre-pandemic, top Thanksgiving destinations look more like 2019 than 2020. Nearly half of the top 25 destinations moved one spot or less compared to 2019 rankings, while overall rank changes compared to 2020 are more significant. Major metros like New York, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle and others plunged down the list in 2020, but are back at their more usual spots for 2021.

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