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Auto Club: Christmas-New Year Holiday Will Be Third Busiest On Record

Travel, Automotive
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Editors: Video soundbites of Auto Club spokesperson Doug Shupe discussing the forecast are available for your use here.

Holiday travel is continuing its return to pre-pandemic levels, with the Automobile Club of Southern California projecting that the year-end holidays will be the third busiest on record locally.

Nearly 8.8 million Southern Californians are expected to get away for the holidays, compared to 9.3 million in 2019 and just under the number who traveled in 2018.

By the numbers: 2020 Year-End Holiday Travel Forecast 

Christmas Travel

“Last year at this time, many people cancelled or postponed holiday trip plans as a new wave of the pandemic hit without widespread vaccination availability,” said Filomena Andre, the Auto Club’s Vice President for Travel Products & Services. “This year after most people have gotten vaccinated, travelers are mindful of the continued need for caution and the new Omicron variant, but have greater confidence in taking long-awaited family vacations.”

Top Destinations

Nationwide, AAA expects Anaheim to be the second most popular destination over the 11-day period from Dec. 23 to Jan. 2, while San Diego is expected to be the tenth most popular. According to a survey of Auto Club travel advisors, the top five destinations for Southern Californians are:

  1. Las Vegas
  2. San Diego
  3. Anaheim
  4. Grand Canyon
  5. Yosemite

Gas Prices

Gas prices will be at their highest level ever for this time of year, so be prepared to shop around for the cheapest gas prices anywhere you travel with the AAA Mobile app. 2021 is shaping up to be the most expensive year ever for regular unleaded gasoline, with a year-to-date average price in Southern California of about $4.15 a gallon.

Travel Tips

For those who travel for the year-end holidays, the Auto Club urges them to know the risks and minimize them by taking the following steps:

  • Follow all CDC guidelines regarding travel.
  • Bring along enough personal protective gear and hand sanitizer for all those traveling for each day of travel, as well as a thermometer to monitor your health.
  • Minimize your travel stops by bringing along your own snacks, food, and drinks. Use drive-throughs or curbside pickup at restaurants if you do stop.
  • Know the COVID-19 restrictions along the route you will be traveling and at your destination. You can quickly access them by mapping out your route at and using the COVID-19 restrictions feature.
  • Before you head out, be sure your vehicle is ready for the trip to avoid a breakdown along the way. The Auto Club expects to rescue more than 146,000 Southern Californians at the roadside during the 11-day holiday period. AAA makes it easy to request assistance – by phone, app or online – and members can track the service technician’s progress as they make their way to your vehicle.

Traffic Bottlenecks Expected to Drop This Holiday

Because this holiday period is spread out over 11 days, the transportation analytics firm INRIX expects far fewer holiday-related traffic bottlenecks. However, Sunday, Jan. 2 is expected to be the most congested day of the travel period in many areas, including I-405 South from Sunset Blvd to I-105, which is supposed to experience almost 200% more traffic than normal between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on that day.


In cooperation with AAA, IHS Markit—a world leader in critical information, analytics and expertise—developed a unique methodology to forecast actual domestic travel volumes. The economic variables used to forecast travel for the current holiday are leveraged from IHS Markit’s proprietary databases. These data include macroeconomic drivers such as employment, output, household net worth, asset prices including stock indices, interest rates, housing market indicators, and variables related to travel and tourism, including prices of gasoline, airline travel and hotel stays.

Media Contacts

Doug Shupe
LA-based media contact
(512) 659-1632

Marie Montgomery
(714) 420-0477 (cell)

CST 1016202-80 Copyright © Automobile Club of Southern California. All Rights Reserved.
The Automobile Club of Southern California is a member club affiliated with the American Automobile Association (AAA) national federation and serves members in the following California counties: Inyo, Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura.