Five things to know before traveling during holidays
Should I go to the family Thanksgiving bash in Michigan? Will gas prices drop before my holiday trip? Why are rental cars triple the pre-pandemic cost?
Serenity now. Here are five things to know about taking a jaunt this week and during the Hanukkah/Christmas/Kwanzaa juggernaut.
For starters, travel is rebounding this Thanksgiving, but numbers still fall short of the 56 million carefree souls who hit the roads and airports in 2019.
This holiday, AAA projects 53.4 million Americans will venture out of town -- a jump of nearly 15% compared to 47.1 million in 2020, when many hunkered down during a COVID-19 surge.
AAA also estimates 2.7 million Illinoisans will journey somewhere this holiday, more than the 2.4 million last year but less than 2.9 million in 2019.
"Because many people chose not to travel last year due to caution, they are now eager to get on the road or plane to spend Thanksgiving with family and friends," AAA spokeswoman Molly Hart said.
With U.S. borders open as of Nov. 8 for leisure travelers, expect myriad family reunions equaling long lines at airports, AAA advised. Give yourself a two-hour head start at the terminal if flying domestically and three hours for international trips during the holidays.
Need to buy a last-minute ticket? It's possible without breaking the bank, Scott's Cheap Flights expert Willis Orlando said.
Fares are 13% to 24% lower than in 2019 because many airlines overestimated the public's appetite for air travel. Now they need to fill seats.
Flexible consumers should consider an early morning flight on Thanksgiving, Orlando suggested.
"You'll probably save, on a domestic route, $100 to $150 off flying on Wednesday, and you'll also have fewer crowds in the airport," he said.
Flying in December? "Right now is a really good time" to book, he advised.
The Chicago region is benefiting because Delta and American airlines are being "really, really aggressive and forcing prices down," Orlando said. "These competitors are putting enormous pressure on United Airlines to keep airfares reasonable."
Traffic should be at its worst Wednesday from noon to 8 p.m., analytics firm INRIX predicts. On Thanksgiving, roads will be busy from noon to 3 p.m., and if you're coming home Sunday, expect congestion from 1 to 7 p.m.
Gas prices are averaging $3.68 for a gallon of regular in the Chicago metro area compared to $2.27 a year ago. Demand is outpacing the supply after oil companies slowed production in 2020.
"Over the last couple weeks, gas prices have either gone down a couple of cents or remained stable," Hart said. "They may go up a few cents through the holiday season."
For road-trippers, statewide gas prices are $3.32 a gallon in Indiana, $3.35 in Michigan and $3.12 in Wisconsin.
The Illinois Department of Public Health recommends delaying trips until everyone in your party is vaccinated and getting a booster shot if you're eligible.
If you do travel, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control offers tools to check on infection counts and vaccination rates at your destination. The current Midwest scoreboard has Michigan at 616.3 new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days, Wisconsin with 420.7, Indiana with 295.2 and Illinois with 223.2.
You may have noticed auto rental costs are sky-high. Sadly, that won't change soon, Consumer Guide Automotive Publisher Tom Appel warned.
Early in the pandemic, carmakers cut production and microchip orders, allowing others to corner the market.
"Right now, everyone's scrambling to find microchips, but car manufacturers have contracts for very few of them," Appel said. The last in line to get new cars are rental companies, which miscalculated by reducing their fleets in 2020.
"What they have left, they're renting for exorbitant prices. We're going to see those prices for a while," said Appel, who's staying close to home in Palatine for his Thanksgiving.
Do you have incoming international visitors? The government requires that foreign travelers be fully vaccinated to fly into domestic airports. Some exceptions are allowed, including children.
In addition, all fliers regardless of citizenship or vaccination status must test negative for COVID-19 before boarding flights into the U.S. For info, go to cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers. If you're crossing the border by land, find out more at dhs.gov/coronavirus.