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Thanksgiving Holiday Travel to Near Pre-Pandemic Highs

2 MINUTE READ | November 23, 2021

Thanksgiving Holiday Travel to Near Pre-Pandemic Highs

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Abby Long

Abby is PMG’s senior managing editor, where she leads the company’s editorial program and manages the PMG Blog and Insights Hub. As a writer, editor, and marketing communications strategist with nearly a decade of experience, Abby's work in showcasing PMG’s unique expertise through POVs, research reports, and thought leadership regularly informs business strategy and media investments for some of the most iconic brands in the world. Named among the AAF Dallas 32 Under 32, her expertise in advertising, media strategy, and consumer trends has been featured in Ad Age, Business Insider, and Digiday.

On Friday, the TSA screened more than 2.2 million passengers — the highest number since the pandemic began — in an early signal that travel demand for the Thanksgiving holiday is on track to return to pre-pandemic levels. AAA predicts more than 53 million Americans will travel for Thanksgiving this year, an increase of 13 percent from last year, while PlaceIQ measures notable upticks across travel-specific locations, including airports and hotels as well. 

The TSA expects to screen around 20 million air passengers from November 19 through November 28, predicting passenger volume may draw close to pre-pandemic levels. Additionally, major airlines have released new estimates for air travel during the holiday season. 

As reported by Skift, “Delta Airlines said it expects to fly up to 5.6 million passengers from [last] Friday through November 30, a nearly 300 percent increase above the 2.2 million Delta passengers flown in 2020, but a number still below 2019’s 6.3 million passengers during the same period.” Similarly, United Airlines anticipates more than 4.5 million passengers during the Thanksgiving travel period, close to 88 percent of 2019’s volume. 

Despite this uptick in air travel, only 22 percent of Americans are expected to stay in a hotel this Thanksgiving, according to estimates from the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) as consumers hit the road (and take to the skies) for day trips or plan to stay with friends and family. Sales at Hilton and Marriott remain down year-over-year, with Marriott’s international bookings down 40 percent from 2019 levels, as international travel lags behind U.S. leisure travel. In contrast, Airbnb recorded its best quarter ever, as travelers opt for longer stays and rural accommodations.

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By some estimates, domestic air travel has largely recovered from pandemic-induced declines, but recovery across the entire hospitality and travel industry remains uneven. Experts predict holiday travel demand will surpass both 2019 and 2020 levels in the days and weeks to come. Looking ahead, business and international travel aren’t expected to fully recover until at least 2024, while U.S. domestic leisure travel is expected to surpass pre-pandemic levels as soon as 2022.

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