July 4th travel will blow Memorial Day 'out of the water'

·4 min read

The Fourth of July this year is set to be the busiest travel weekend so far this summer — fueled by renewed confidence as COVID-19 cases improve — but the volume will fall just shy of pre-pandemic levels.

“Memorial Day was very busy,” Hopper Economist Adit Damodaran told Yahoo Money, noting the May holiday had been one of the busiest weekends for travel since the start of the pandemic.

“But July 4th will then blow it out of the water,” he said.

More than 47.7 million Americans will drive or fly this weekend, according to AAA estimations, up 40% over last year when only 34.2 million Americans traveled. Still, the volume just misses the all-time high of 48.9 million travelers set in 2019.

On the roads

ARLINGTON, VA - MAY 28: Travelers pass through the concourse at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on the eve of Memorial Day long weekend May 28, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia. As COVID-19 related restrictions are loosen up across the country, more than 37 million Americans are expected to travel, either by driving, flying or catching a train, over the Memorial Day weekend this year, according to AAA. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Travelers pass through the concourse at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on the eve of Memorial Day long weekend May 28, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“Domestic travel is still reigning supreme,” Damodaran said, noting 91% of travelers this holiday weekend will be driving to their destinations.

The worst travel days in most of the major metros will be Friday afternoon followed by Monday afternoon and evening, according to data from Inrix that AAA provided Yahoo Money.

“With travelers eager to hit the road this summer, we’re expecting nationwide traffic volumes to increase about 15% over normal this holiday weekend. Drivers around major metro areas must be prepared for significantly more delays,” said Bob Pishue, INRIX’s transportation analyst, in a press release. “Our advice is to avoid traveling on Thursday and Friday afternoon, along with Monday mid-day.”

Motorists also will likely contend with ongoing rental car shortages and steep pump prices.

Since the pandemic brought on a supply and demand imbalance in the country’s rental car fleet, rates have dramatically spiked over 2019 with some prices jumping 300% in certain tourist hotspots, according to AutoSlash.

Heavy traffic is seen at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on May 27, 2021 in Los Angeles, as people travel for Memorial Day weekend, which marks the unofficial start of the summer travel season. - Global air passenger numbers could rebound from the coronavirus pandemic to top 2019 levels by 2023, the International Air Transport Association predicted on May 26. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
Heavy traffic is seen at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on May 27, 2021 in Los Angeles, as people travel for Memorial Day weekend. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

Daily rates average $99 with certain cities claiming premium rates like Phoenix ($126), Miami ($125), and Las Vegas ($107) last month, according to Hopper. Some unlikely travelers may not even secure a rental at all in areas with the most demand.

Prices don’t look much better at the pump this holiday weekend, either.

“Road trippers will pay the most to fill up for the holiday since 2014,” said Jeanette McGee, AAA spokesperson.

The national average stood at $3.10 per gallon, as of Tuesday, and relief before the holiday weekend doesn’t look promising. AAA predicts prices to rise another five cents before travelers hit the roads.

In the skies

Airports are bracing for the largest crowds since March 2020. 

“For July 4, we're expecting about 2-2.1 million people so that's up about 250,000 each day from Memorial Day weekend,” Damodaran said.

Pricing for domestic roundtrip flights over the holiday weekend are averaging $302, on par with pre-pandemic pricing, according to Hopper. International roundtrip fares offer better deals, down $77 on average from two years ago.

Where are Americans headed?

Mary Poppins smiles at a young child as she leads a line of children in song and dance in front of Cinderella's castle during Disney's 60th Diamond Celebration. (Photo: Getty)
Mary Poppins smiles at a young child as she leads a line of children in song and dance in front of Cinderella's castle during Disney's 60th Diamond Celebration. (Photo: Getty)

Americans are seeking thrills from entertainment and theme parks capitals like Las Vegas and Orlando, which come in at No. 1 on Hopper’s and AAA’s respective tourist destination forecasts based on online search traffic, and hotel and car rental bookings.

Anaheim, California — home of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park and Knott’s Berry Farm — came in at No. 2 on AAA’s list.

Northern destinations like Chicago, Seattle, Denver, and Atlanta — which both landed in the top 10 destination lists for Hopper and AAA — replace the Sun Belt destination cities like Phoenix, Honolulu, and Dallas that were popular for Memorial Day weekend.

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Stephanie is a reporter for Yahoo Money and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.

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