GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — According to AAA, people traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday should expect more drivers on the roads, but there are ways to beat the crowds.
The association estimates more than 55 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles for Thanksgiving, including 1.74 million people in Michigan — a 2.6% increase over last year, and the third-highest number on record since AAA started tracking data in 2000.
More travelers are opting for alternatives in 2023. AAA estimates a record-breaking 178,000 Michiganders will travel by air this year, and more people are choosing to take trains or busses than last year.
HOW TO BEAT THE ROAD TRAFFIC
AAA says the key to a smooth trip is to avoid the roads at peak drive times.
“The day before Thanksgiving is notoriously one of the most congested days on our roadways. Travelers should be prepared for long delays, especially around major metros,” Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst with INRIX told AAA. “Knowing when and where congestion will build can help minimize holiday traffic frustrations. We advise drivers to use traffic apps, local DOT notifications and 511 services for real-time updates.”
The peak driving times are 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday. On Wednesday, it is recommended you arrive before 11 a.m. On Thursday, AAA recommends getting to your destination before 10 a.m. and avoiding the roads until after 5 p.m. For Black Friday, peak driving time is noon to 4 p.m. Peak hours for that Saturday and Sunday are 3 p.m to 5 p.m.
Those trips should be a little cheaper than last year, depending on how you travel.
Gas prices are expected to be down compared to last year, while average hotel prices in the U.S. are down 12%. The average price for domestic rental cars is also down significantly, 20% less than in 2022.
“We’re starting to see more stations around West Michigan fall below the $3 mark. In fact, we’re now up to almost 15 stations below that mark,” said Patrick De Haan with GasBuddy. “If you’re traveling down to South Haven, (it is) one of the cheapest places in the state, with the average prices there about $2.80 a gallon.”
De Haan told News 8 that average gas prices in West Michigan hovered around $3.12, which is 77 cents lower than this time last year. Prices could continue to fall for the next week or so, he said.
“It’s going to be the cheapest Thanksgiving to hit the road since Thanksgiving of 2020,” De Haan said. “Though prices may not always be below $3, I think between now and Valentine’s Day, we’ll see some of the year’s lowest prices.”
The average price for domestic flights is up slightly. The average price is $681, up 5% from last year.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT FLYING
The Gerald R. Ford International Airport expects to set a new travel record this Thanksgiving season, with a projected 154,000 travelers flying in and out of West Michigan.
Part of the increase in travel is due to a return to post-pandemic conditions, while the expansion of Ford’s Concourse A, which opened over the summer, has also contributed to more flights.
“We are expecting increases through the TSA checkpoint and years moving forward,” COO Alex Peric said. “The West Michigan community is growing and we at the airport want to
accommodate that growth.”
Peak air travel days are expected to be Wednesday and the weekend following Thanksgiving.
“Parking this year looks really good,” Peric said. “We have plenty of parking spots, plenty of capacity at our decks, in our surface lots, but we do ask people to show up early to get that prime spot close to the terminal building.”
Travelers are reminded that jams and jellies are considered liquids and therefore, those not
checking their bags must adhere to the 3.4-ounce limit.