Holiday Travelers Are Opting for Flights Over Road Trips, New Study Finds

“This year the rules and the norms are kind of off the table when it comes to travel...”

Christmas tree inside Orlando International Airport
Photo: landbysea/Getty

With the holiday season approaching, more than half of surveyed travelers who will take a Thanksgiving or Christmas trip say it will be their first vacation since COVID-19 halted life as we know it, according to a new study from travel booking app Hopper.

Fifty-five percent said it would be their first trip in the COVID-19 era, according to the report, shared with Travel + Leisure, that surveyed 892 people in September.

Holiday travelers will be using all means of transportation (and road trips are certainly appealing), but 74% of those surveyed said they planned to fly over the December holidays, compared to only 10% who said they would drive their own cars, Hopper noted. That’s slightly higher than the 52% who said they would take to the skies for Thanksgiving.

“This year the rules and the norms are kind of off the table when it comes to travel,” Liana Corwin, a consumer travel expert with Hopper, told T+L, adding “People are traveling much more intentionally this year than they have in years past. While people want to travel, they want to see their family, I think having a very specific reason is helping people exercise that pent up travel demand… maybe over the summer you didn't have the same kind of impetus to make that trip.”

The holidays are certainly a jolly time to book a much-needed vacation or visit family you haven’t seen in months, but only 39% of people said they would be traveling this upcoming season. And 21% of people who normally take a trip over the holidays were opting out in 2020.

“While we've started to see some recovery… there's a long way for travel to go in order to recover completely,” Corwin said. “While it looks low, it's definitely much higher than earlier on in the pandemic. We're seeing demand start to recover for the holidays, but of course it hasn't recovered completely.”

The good news for would-be adventurers: good deals on flights are popping up even earlier in the season than years past. In fact, domestic flight prices over Christmas have dropped 40% compared to 2019, according to Hopper, while international flight prices have dropped 22% over the same time period.

Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she’s not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.

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