Memorial Day 2021 Travel Trends From TripIt

By TripIt

May 24, 2021

Memorial Day weekend (MDW) signals the unofficial start of summer—and Americans are ready to hit the road. As we head into the first major U.S. holiday since massive vaccine rollouts began, we decided to dig into what travel bookings are looking like for the kick-off of summer.  

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

We found that while travel is starting to tick back toward pre-pandemic levels, road trips, as predicted, are definitely going to reign supreme for the first holiday of the summer travel season. 

Memorial Day weekend bookings show a travel recovery is underway

Travelers are more ready than ever to get back on the road. Our TripIt data shows car rentals are at 45 percent of 2019 levels and 220 percent of 2020 levels. No wonder we’ve been hearing about car rental shortages in some locations! 

As for lodging reservations, they are currently at around 46 percent of pre-pandemic (2019) levels for Memorial Day travel. Meanwhile, when compared to 2020 bookings, they are already outpacing (115 percent) the amount of bookings for.

Current Percentage of Reservations Compared to Years Prior

2021 Flights (All)2021 flights (U.S.)2021 Car Rentals2021 Lodging
Compared to 202064%76%220%115%
Compared to 201929%33%45%46%

Just looking at car rentals and lodging, though, does not tell the whole story. If you can recall Memorial Day 2020, you might remember the American public was not quite sold that COVID-19 meant they needed to cancel vacation plans, especially one as celebratory as the kick-off of summer. And, many states had even begun lifting initial lockdowns, meaning this was a heavily trafficked weekend. 

So, while it may seem surprising, when we reflect back it makes sense that there are fewer flights booked for Memorial Day this year than there were last year. In fact, flights are at 64 percent of 2020 levels overall for this specific weekend, and 76 percent when you look solely at domestic flights. However, when compared to 2019, flights are currently tracking at about 30 percent of pre-pandemic travel levels. 

Americans craving sunshine for Memorial Day 2021 

When it comes to MDW destinations, Americans are craving sunshine and warm weather locales to kick-start their summers. Our TripIt data shows Las Vegas and Orlando, Fla. rank in the top five across flights, car rentals, and lodging destinations. Cancun takes a top five spot for flights as well.

Flight Destination Rankings and Rank Changes Compared to 2021

2021 Ranking
City, State
2020 Ranking
Rank Change
(2020 to 2021)
2019 Ranking
Rank Change
(2019 to 2021)
1Las Vegas, NV105+4
2Orlando, FL3+19+7
4Denver, CO5+140
5Pheonix, AZ10+511+6
6Kahului, HI23+1731+25
7Chicago, IL701-6
8Seattle, WA11+310+2
9Los Angeles, CA6-36-3
10New York, NY4-62-8
11San Francisco, CA9-23-8
12Boston, MA8-48-4
13Dallas, TX17+4130
14Honolulu, HI21+728+14
15Tampa, FL24+929+14
16San Diego, CA160160
17Fort Lauderdale, FL18+123+6
18Miami, FL26+833+15
19San Jose Cabo36+1742+23
20Nashville, TN19-1200
21Atlanta, GA15-614-7
22Salt Lake City, UT41+1934+12
23Newark, NJ22-115-8
24Portland, OR32+818-6
25Houston, TX31+619-6

California is another hot destination for MDW 2021—namely, Los Angeles and San Diego. Both cities rank in the top 10: San Diego for lodging, and LA for car rentals and flights. When we look specifically at the vacation rental subset of lodging, we find that LA, San Diego, and Palm Springs make up three of the top five. Other California destinations in the top 25 include San Francisco, Santa Ana, Anaheim, Sonoma, and South Lake Tahoe.

Hawaiian destinations have also risen to the top of all lists. Kahului, Honolulu, and Lahaina all rank within the top 10 across flights, car rentals, or lodgings, with additional Hawaiian destinations in the top 25 including Kailua-Kona and Lihue. When we look at vacation rental destinations specifically, Kihei takes the number one spot.

Hawaii has consistently been a top-ranked destination for 2021 travel plans. When we asked users about their travel plans earlier this year Hawaii was the number one location for those planning a bucket list trip in 2021. (Florida and California were in that top five as well.)

Lodging Destination Ranking and Rank Changes Compared to 2021

2021 Ranking
City, State
2020 Ranking
Rank Change
(2020 to 2021)
2019 Ranking
Rank Change
(2019 to 2021)
1Las Vegas, NV2+12+1
2Orlando, FL3+14+2
3New York, NY1-21-2
4Honolulu, HI7+316+12
5Chicago, IL6+13-2
6San Diego, CA13+77+1
7Lahaina, HI16+923+16
8New Orleans, LA9+111+3
9Nashville, TN14+515+6
10Los Angeles, CA12+212+2
11San Francisco, CA5-65-6
12Seattle, WA11-19-3
13Denver, CO15+2130
14Austin, TX10-410-4
15Boston, MA4-118-7
16Scottsdale, AZ26+1028+12
17Savannah, GA43+2632+15
18Anaheim, CA17-133+15
19San Antonio, TX30+1120+1
20Kihei, HI37+1744+24
21Moab, UT41+2059+38
22Atlanta, GA19-319-3
23Houston, TX21-217-6
24Portland, OR24016-8
25Jackson, WY77+52113+88

Some major metros slip in rankings for Memorial Day 2021 

As for where Americans aren’t going? Unsurprisingly, international destinations fell off the top 25 lists completely, as many countries have only recently started to welcome travelers back.

As for domestic destinations, some major cities are trending down across flights, accomodations, and car rental bookings. Cities like Washington, DC, New York, and Philadelphia all fell off some top 25 lists.  

Meanwhile, San Francisco has started descending from its top ranking spots as have Boston and Chicago. However, all three cities are still within top 25 lists. Chicago has also steadily declined in ranking as a vacation rental destination; Austin which was a top destination the past two years, also fell this year to 19.  As travelers are getting back on the road, it seems they are not as eager to make their way to major cities as they have been in years past.

Vacation Rental Destination Rankings and Rank Changes Compared to 2021

2021 Ranking
City, State
2020 Ranking
Rank Change
(2020 to 2021)
2019 Ranking
Rank Change
(2019 to 2021)
1Kihei, HI18+1733+32
2Los Angeles, CA5+33+1
3San Diego, CA4+16+3
4Palm Springs, CA22+1821+17
5New Orleans, LA28+238+3
6Seattle, WA3-31-5
7New York, NY6-170
8Charleston, SC23+1522+14
9Honolulu, HI13+424+15
10Kissimmee, FL10027+17
11Santa Fe, NM34+2334+23
12Sedona, AZ29+1743+31
13Portland, OR70+575-8
14Lahaina, HI36+2238+24
15Hilton Head, SC67+5220+5
16Nashville, TN2-1411-5
17Kailua-kona, HI72+5584+67
18Sonoma, CA24+664+46
19Austin, TX1-182-17
20South Lake Tahoe, CA27+723+3
21Miami, FL264+24326+5
22Asheville, NC21-125+3
23Moab, UT54+3182+59
24Chicago, IL19-510-14
25Phoenix, AZ391+36688+63

Desert destinations, national parks climb the ranks

So, which destinations have been moving and shaking up the lists? As for lodging, Phoenix and Miami made a massive jump in vacation rental bookings with triple digit increases, and Sedona, Ari. climbed the ranks as well. Meanwhile, Jackson, Wyo. and Moab, Utah and Scottsdale, Ari.—ideal locations for outdoor adventures and visiting national parks—were the top destinations to climb the lodging ranks.

As for car rentals, we saw Hawaiian destinations with major growth spurts, moving upwards of 30 ranks from years prior. This aligns with recent news reports that rental cars are so hard to come by on the islands, that tourists have been renting U-Hauls. 

Car Rental Destination Rankings and Rank Changes Compared to 2021

2021 Ranking
City, Sate
2020 Ranking
Rank Change
(2020 to 2021)
2019 Ranking
Rank Change
(2019 to 2021)
1Phoenix, AZ3+26+5
2Orlando, FL204+2
3Denver, CO1-22-1
4Las Vegas, NV9+58+4
5Kahului, HI7+222+17
6Honolulu, HI11+525+19
7San Francisco, CA4-31-6
8Dallas, TX15+79+1
9Chicago, IL6-35-4
10Los Angeles, CA5-53-7
11San Diego, CA14+312+1
12Boston, MA8-47-5
13Salt Lake City, UT20+720+7
14Tampa, FL10-418+4
15Fort Lauderdale, FL21+628+13
16Houston, TX22+611-5
17Seatac, WA17034+17
18Kailua-kona, HI33+1553+35
19Santa Ana, CA50+3135+16
20Lihue, HI16-437+17
21Charlotte, NC45+2416-5
22Miami, FL29+730+8
23San Antonio, TX38+1539+16
24Portland, OR18-614-10
25Nashville, TN13-1224-1

Meanwhile, our TripIt data shows that flights to Salt Lake City, Kahului, San Jose Cabo, and Cancun have increased and caused all to jump up the list with double digit rank changes since last year. When comparing 2021 flight bookings to 2019, add Miami, Honolulu, and Tampa to the list of double-digit ranking increases. 

While we are not yet in the clear when it comes to COVID-19, our TripIt data—and other prominent travel indicators—suggest that this first holiday post-vaccine rollout is a positive sign for a return to travel. 

Planning to take a trip this Memorial Day? TripIt is here to help you stay safe as you venture back out. Make sure to add your Memorial Day weekend 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 May 2, 2020, and May 2, 2021, for travel during  the Memorial Day weekend with a US origin; and equivalent booking periods  in 2019 and 2020. Reservation data in TripIt is provided by users, and is booking provider agnostic.