Memorial Day weekend start of busy summer travel season just 3 weeks away
Memorial Day is three weeks from today, and as the unofficial start to the summer season, it marks the official kickoff of what’s sure to be a busy few months for travel. From being dubbed the "sold-out-summer" to preparing for long lines you might encounter along the way and navigating higher prices, we’ve been talking for weeks about a summer travel season like we haven’t seen since before COVID-19.
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That season largely begins with the long Memorial Day weekend, which starts Friday, May 27 and lasts through Monday, May 30.
As the season gets into full swing, companies are tracking bookings compared to past years. As early as mid-April, AAA said booking data showed reservations for the long weekend were up 122% compared to 2021 levels.
If you’re still considering a trip, AAA says you’re still in luck: its experts say the sweet spot to book airfare is going to be about two weeks prior to the holiday weekend. That would be this coming weekend, if you’re thinking of setting a reminder in your phone.
With the days bookending that long weekend often among the busiest travel days annually, there’s certainly a chance the TSA could soon see new pandemic records for passenger traffic heading into the summer months.
So far, the single busiest day we’ve seen since March 2020 was the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2021, when just over 2.4 million passengers passed through checkpoints. The TSA saw close to that number of passengers quite a few times this spring though, and some airports exceeded even pre-pandemic passenger numbers during peak spring break weeks, including Miami Airport, which on one day this spring saw its busiest day ever.
Where are travelers headed?
Throughout much of the pandemic, we’ve talked about the popularity of more rural, spaced-out destinations many travelers have preferred. National parks, for instance, have been popular.
Indeed, that trend continues this summer. Airbnb says the gross number of "non-urban" nights booked were up 80% during the first quarter of 2022, compared to pre-pandemic 2019 levels.
Related: Sky-high Airbnb rates make travel deals harder to find
At the same time, though, there’s no doubt travelers are again shifting their attention back to cities and other popular destinations.
The home share booking site said nights booked in high-density, urban destinations are up by the same 80% compared to this time last year.
AAA mentioned the same trend in its look ahead to the holiday weekend, mentioning Orlando, Seattle, Miami and Las Vegas as four of the most popular destinations to which travelers are planning trips.
“Travelers are targeting big cities and beaches for their Memorial Day getaways this year,” AAA said.
Vacation rental site Vacasa said its top trending destinations for the long weekend – not surprisingly – are popular beach locations: Destin and Perdido Key, Florida; Ocean City, Maryland; and Newport Beach, California were among the top destinations for the weekend.
Demand will keep up through summer
While Memorial Day is likely to see a wave of travelers kicking off the summer with a trip, all indications are that the demand is likely to carry through the entire season.
Vacasa’s data shows 63% of Americans planning to travel this summer, and Airbnb points out that diminishing COVID-19 requirements and decreasing concern about getting severely ill has led to travelers feeling like they can plan more robust trips months in advance, with less fear of the vacation getting upended by a changing pandemic situation.
“People are becoming increasingly confident in booking travel further in advance,” the site said last month, pointing to “sustained pent-up demand” that had travelers – in April – already having booked 30% more nights for the summer months over that point in 2019, a sign people are both excited to hit the road and ready to make plans as soon as possible.
All of this comes as international destinations also plan to welcome a surge in U.S. travelers this summer, with many international destinations loosening or completely eliminating entry requirements, and some major bucket list destinations like New Zealand recently opening borders for the first time in the pandemic.
We’ve known for some time this summer was going to be one for travel like we have not seen in a few years. That season largely kicks off in just three weeks.
As you plan your trip, be sure to keep a close eye on the flexibility of your reservations, and have a plan for navigating delays, lines and crowds you might encounter along the way.