TripIt Data: Strong Close to Summer Travel with Labor Day 2021

By TripIt

August 23, 2021

The first two of the three big U.S. summer holidays—Memorial Day and Fourth of July—were pandemic-era record setters. With Labor Day approaching, we dug into our data to determine if we'd see sustained record-breaking travel bookings, or if things had started to cool off. 

TripIt analyzed U.S. origin lodging, rental car, and flight reservations made by our TripIt users for Labor Day weekend travel and compared the findings to equivalent booking periods in 2019 and 2020.  

We found that Americans seemingly want to finish the summer away from home, with travel bookings continuing to tick back toward normal. Car rentals continue to see the strongest return, with bookings reaching 413% of 2020 bookings and 75% of 2019 bookings. Bookings for flights and lodging are strongly outpacing last year as well (196% and 199% accordingly.) While vacation rentals, a pandemic-era favorite, are above 2020 levels too, it’s the only one not outpacing by as much (114%). 

We also saw a significant uptick in flight bookings made for Labor Day in July, with almost 3x as many bookings made in July this year compared to what we saw in the same month last year (18%) and five percentage points more than in July 2019 (46%.) 

Current Percentage of Flight Reservations Compared to Years Prior

2021 Flights
(All)
2021 Flights
(Domestic)
2021 Flights
(Int'l)
2021 Car Rentals2021 Lodging2021 Vacation Rental
Compared to 2020196%209%162%413%199%114%
Compared to 201949%53%37%75%62%46%

International travel continues its comeback

Overall flight bookings continue to tick back up, reaching 49% of pre-pandemic levels—up 5 percentage points from what we saw during the Fourth of July holiday. However, this time around, international travel seems to be what’s giving overall air traffic a boost, reaching 37% of 2019 levels and 162% of 2020, compared to 29% of 2019 and 146% of 2020 for Fourth of July. In the top 25, we saw Cancun (#12), Paris (#17) and London (#19), but when we look further into the top 50, we also see Athens (#26), Rome (#32), Reykjavik (#34), San Jose Cabo (#40), Puerto Vallarta (#44), and Lisbon (#47) as top destinations. 

As for domestic air travel, volume continues to increase reaching 53% of 2019 and 209% of 2020; a jump from even just a few weeks ago during Fourth of July weekend when domestic flights were at 51% of 2019 and 146% of 2020. Las Vegas (#1), Denver (#2), and Chicago (#3) have held the top three spots for the past three years, and maintain their reign yet again. And while there were no entirely new destinations that made the list, we did of course see some big changes when compared to last year, which was most certainly an anomaly. For example, New Orleans (#18) and Newark, NJ (#22) dropped off the top 25 last year (to #36 and #40 respectively), but sat at #22 and #14 in 2019. 

Percentages are determined by comparing 2021 and 2019 reservation volumes for each holiday weekend

Meanwhile, California, Florida, and Hawaii continue to be top destinations, but their popularity seems to have waned from their peak over the Fourth of July holiday when nearly a third of flights were to those states. For Labor Day, only a fifth of trips are booked to these sunny locations. 

Flight Destination Rankings and Rank Changes Compared to 2021

2021 RankingCity, State2020 RankingRank Change (2020 to 2021)2019 RankingRank Change (2019 to 2021)
1Las Vegas, NV1032
2Denver, CO201-1
3Chicago, IL302-1
4New York, NY141040
5Seattle, WA6183
6Orlando, FL4-2137
7Boston, MA13670
8Los Angeles, CA5-36-2
9San Francisco, CA19105-4
10Atlanta, GA122122
11Dallas, TX15410-1
12Cancun11-14028
13San Diego, CA9-411-2
14Phoenix, AZ10-4173
15Honolulu, HI172194
16Kahului, HI160215
17Paris7-1015-2
18New Orleans, LA3618224
19London8-119-10
20Austin, TX233233
21Portland, OR25416-5
22Newark, NJ401814-8
23Nashville, TN18-5252
24Washington, DC341020-4
25Salt Lake City, UT21-424-1

While we usually see the majority of bookings for Labor Day weekend made in July (46% in 2019; 18% of all bookings in 2020), this year we saw 51% of reservations made in July—five percentage points more than in 2019 (a more usual booking year) and 33 percentage points more than last year. As the pandemic remains a dynamic situation that requires nimble travel planning, we anticipate the trend to continue.

As for when and where we expect to be busiest leading up to the holiday? The top five departure airports are #1 San Francisco International Airport (SFO), #2 Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), #3 Denver International Airport (DEN), #4 Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), and #5 Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD). Also, it looks like Friday, September 3 will be the busiest departure day followed by Thursday, September 2, with 56% of Labor Day plans with a flight starting on one of those two days.

Rental car shortages likely to remain for Labor Day

We certainly have not seen the last of car rental shortages. Yet again, car rental reservations are expected to blow last year’s reservations off the road, reaching 413% of 2020 levels. 

However, things have cooled slightly from Fourth of July when car rental reservations were at 85% of 2019 levels. Labor Day car rental reservations are currently expected to be at 75% of 2019.

What hasn’t cooled is the interest in California, Florida, and Hawaii, which again represent nearly a third of reservations. California takes 12%, Hawaii takes 10%, and Florida has 8% of all reservations.

Other top destinations include Denver, maintaining it’s #1 spot for the third straight year (and the #1 spot for Fourth of July), and other outdoor adventure heavy locations such as Phoenix (#8) and Anchorage, Alaska (#15). Reno, Nev. made a surprising jump on the list to #25, when it usually sits in the mid-30’s, while Los Angeles (#13) slipped slightly from its usual spot in the top 10.

Car Rental Destination Rankings and Rank Changes Compared to 2021

2021 RankingCity, State2020 RankingRank Change (2020 to 2021)2019 RankingRank Change (2019 to 2021)
1Denver, CO1010
2Kahului, HI2053
3Honolulu, HI1512107
4Boston, MA512-2
5Las Vegas, NV4-183
6San Francisco, CA1153-3
7Chicago, IL1474-3
8Phoenix, AZ9191
9Orlando, FL101156
10Salt Lake City, UT7-3133
11Portland, OR1217-4
12Lihue, HI6-6164
13Los Angeles, CA8-56-7
14Kailua-kona, HI2713163149
15Anchorage, AK2272914
16Seatac, WA16011-5
17San Diego, CA13-414-3
18Philadelphia, PA5032180
19Charlotte, NC2453112
20Dallas, TX311119-1
21Seattle, WA442320-1
22Detroit, MI533117-5
23Tampa, FL18-54219
24Nashville, TN3612262
25Reno, NV3383813

Big cities make big jumps in accommodation rankings

Lodging reservations are sustaining their return to normal, reaching 62% of pre-pandemic levels and 199% of 2020 levels. And as this trend continues, so does another one we first took note of during Fourth of July: a preference for longer stays. While a majority of reservations are still for three to four days, we’ve seen that percentage slowly decrease from 64% in 2019, to 53% in 2020, and now at 52% in 2021. 

So if fewer people are staying for just the holiday weekend, how long are they staying? We found there to be a 10x increase in the number of reservations for both 8-13 and 14+ day trips. While only accounting for 5% of reservations overall, there is no doubt that this trend is continuing. 

Percentage of Lodging Reservations by Length of Stay

1-2 Days3-4 Days5-7 Days8-13 Days14+ Days
202117%52%26%3%2%
202016%53%29%1%1%
201920%64%15%.3%.2%

Beaches and outdoor adventure locations continue to be popular this summer with Honolulu (#10), Lahaina (#15), Hawaii (#15), Yellowstone, Wyo. (#22), and Colorado Springs, Colo. (#25) all making the top 25. But we are also starting to see big cities settle back into their top spots. Las Vegas (#1), New York (#2), and Chicago (#3) are back in the top three spots after New York and Chicago slipped to #4 and #7 respectively last year. Meanwhile, Nashville, Tenn. (#8), Houston (#16), Charlotte, N.C. (#19), and Salt Lake City (#24) all made climbs.

Lodging Destination Ranking and Rank Changes Compared to 2021

2021 RankingCity, State2020 RankingRank Change (2020 to 2021)2019 RankingRank Change (2019 to 2021)
1Las Vegas, NV1021
2New York, NY421-1
3Chicago, IL7430
4Orlando, FL2-262
5Denver, CO5072
6Atlanta, GA3-3104
7Seattle, WA8181
8Nashville, TN157135
9New Orleans, LA101123
10Honolulu, HI133144
11Boston, MA1435-6
12San Francisco, CA11-14-8
13San Diego, CA6-79-4
14Los Angeles, CA20611-3
15Lahaina, HI194194
16Houston, TX3014226
17Austin, TX12-5170
18Washington, DC21315-3
19Charlotte, NC1851663314
20Portland, OR23316-4
21Anchorage, AK3918254
22Yellowstone, WY16-6132110
23Philadelphia, PA987518-5
24Salt Lake City, UT55313713
25Colorado Springs, CO2724318

Vacation rental bookings veer from the norm

While vacation rental bookings are also still making the climb back toward normal, they are not performing quite as well for Labor Day as they had for Fourth of July. Over the Fourth, reservations were at 54% of pre-pandemic levels, while for Labor Day we are seeing reservations at 46% of 2019. 

While reservations are still exceeding last year (114% of 2020), we are not surprised that these increases are lower compared to overall lodging. Vacation rentals have been an accommodation of choice during the pandemic thanks to their ability to maintain distance from others more easily, so it makes sense that they’re not rebounding as noticeably as other accommodation types. 

We also saw lengths of stay at vacation rentals dip for Labor Day compared to Fourth of July. While longer stays are seeing more interest overall, for example stays of 8-13 days doubled compared to 2019, we didn’t see stays longer than a week get the same interest as they did for Fourth of July when they increased 6x. In fact, while only 13% of stays are for one to two days, that is an increase when compared to 2019 (12%) and 2020 (10%). Perhaps some are trying to squeeze in one last short getaway before the summer ends.

1-2 Days3-4 Days5-7 Days8-13 Days14+ Days
202113%43%38%5%1%
202010%49%35%4%2%
201912%51%34%2%1%

Another surprise for vacation rentals were the top destinations, as we saw some major jumps compared to years past. Brooklyn, N.Y. took the number one spot, jumping from #31 last year and #9 in 2019. Anchorage, Alaska (#8) also climbed some 70-odd spots from last year and nearly 20 from 2019, while Whitefish, Mont. (#16), Napa, Calif. (#20), Philadelphia (#22), and Koloa, Hawaii (#25) all made triple digit jumps. Meanwhile, Seattle (#5) and Portland, Ore. (#13) fell slightly down the list.

Vacation Rental Destination Rankings and Rank Changes Compared to 2021

2021 RankingCity, State2020 RankingRank Change (2020 to 2021)2019 RankingRank Change (2019 to 2021)
1Brooklyn, NY313098
2Nashville, TN4264
3San Diego, CA1-241
4New Orleans, LA1713117
5Seattle, WA2-31-4
6Lahaina, HI32261711
7Kihei, HI48412417
8Anchorage, AK82742618
9Denver, CO1233-6
10Los Angeles, CA1662-8
11New York, NY10-18-3
12Sedona, AZ27152816
13Portland, OR8-57-6
14Las Vegas, NV50363319
15Chicago, IL25105-10
16Whitefish, MT3014155139
17Honolulu, HI442714-3
18Kissimmee, FL94763719
19Hilton Head, SC18-110990
20Napa, CA1631436242
21Santa Barbara, CA46257150
22Philadelphia, PA221199220
23Colorado Springs, CO13-105229
24Princeville, HI74504622
25Koloa, HI1421176136

While we’re just as sad as most that summer has come to an end, we are hopeful that safe travel will continue in the coming months. TripIt is here to help you stay safe as you venture back out. Make sure to add your travel plans to your TripIt itinerary so that you can see COVID-19 travel guidance by destination and airline, find medical facilities (should you need them) in Nearby Places, and local health and medical scores with Neighborhood Safety Scores.

Methodology: TripIt looked at  U.S. origin round-trip  flight, lodging and rental car  reservations made between August 3, 2020, and August 3, 2021, for travel during  the Labor Day holiday (Thursday, September 2 - Tuesday, September 7, 2021) with a US origin; and equivalent booking periods  in 2020 and 2019. Reservation data in TripIt is provided by users, and is booking provider agnostic.