TripIt Data: Thanksgiving 2021 Travel Volume Nearly Triple 2020

By TripIt

November 08, 2021

As the first Thanksgiving approaches since vaccine rollouts began in the United States, we were eager to dig into TripIt reservation data to see if we should expect yet another highly traveled holiday. And what we found is that cooling U.S. concerns around the Delta variant paired with increasing traveler optimism could make for the most highly trafficked holiday since the pandemic began.

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

Our data shows Thanksgiving 2021 travel will be nearly triple the volume of last year across most categories, and while still not quite at pre-pandemic levels, flight (52% vs. 2019), lodging (65% vs. 2019), and vacation rental (59% vs. 2019) volumes are at the highest rates we’ve seen for holiday travel this year.

We also found that Americans are starting to return to their more usual holiday destinations and more usual stay lengths. See what else we uncovered in the analysis below.

Current Percentage of Flight Reservations Compared to Years Prior

2021 Flights
2021 Flights
2021 Flights
2021 Car Rentals2021 Lodging2021 Vacation Rentals
Compared to 2020298%299%292%390%258%175%
Compared to 201952%54%44%78%65%59%

One third of travelers plan to fly in the two days preceding Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving travelers fall into two groups—those that make a week of it, and those who just dip in for the holiday. And more travelers fall in the latter group, with 33% of flight departures booked for the Tuesday (16%) and Wednesday (17%)—Wednesday being the most popular travel day—before Thanksgiving. Though, only slightly less will leave the Friday (14%) or Saturday (15%) before the holiday week and stick around.

As for the least popular day to travel? No surprise there: It’s Thanksgiving Day itself (just 7% of travelers).

And while all airports can expect to be busy (more on that below), there are some that will be busier than others: San Francisco International Airport (SFO) ranks #1, followed by Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) (#2), Denver International Airport (DEN) (#3), Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)(#4), and Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) (#5).

Flight reservations hovered at around 50% of pre-pandemic levels during the holidays this past year, but for Thanksgiving they are at their highest level—52% when compared to 2019. Same goes when looking at domestic and international flight reservations separately—54% and 44%, respectively. However, when comparing flight volumes to 2020 levels, we see nearly triple the volume. This isn’t entirely surprising to us as 19% of respondents in our recent survey told us they were planning to travel for Thanksgiving, and nearly 50% said they were planning to fly.

While the act of traveling might look a bit different than it did pre-pandemic, top Thanksgiving destinations look more like 2019 than 2020. Nearly half of the top 25 destinations moved one spot or less compared to 2019 rankings, while overall rank changes compared to 2020 are more significant. Major metros like New York, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle and others plunged down the list in 2020, but are back at their more usual spots for 2021.

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, NV5410
2New York, NY11931
3Chicago, IL962-1
4Orlando, FL2-284
5Los Angeles, CA614-1
6Phoenix, AZ3-360
7Denver, CO1-670
8San Francisco, CA19115-3
9Boston, MA167101
10Seattle, WA1229-1
11Dallas, TX8-3121
13Miami, FL2512196
14Fort Lauderdale, FL7-7140
15Newark, NJ271211-4
16San Diego, CA13-3160
17Tampa, FL10-7181
18Washington, DC3113213
19Austin, TX201223
20Atlanta, GA14-613-7
21Honolulu, HI17-4254
22Houston, TX18-417-5
23Puerto Vallarta3074623
24Fort Myers, FL21-3339

As usual, we see a fairly even mix of warm weather and winter adventure destinations. Over the summer, California, Florida, and Hawaii captured the majority of bookings. However, perhaps travelers heard the request of the Rainbow State this summer and planned accordingly: For Thanksgiving, destinations in California (15%), Florida (14%), and Texas (7%) claim the majority of domestic flights. (Things could look different for Christmas and New Year’s as the governor of Hawaii recently re-extended his welcome.)

Rental car bookings continue to cover more ground

Rental car shortages and price hikes were extreme this past summer, but it looks like they could be even more pronounced this Thanksgiving. Rental cars remain the travel mode closest to pre-pandemic levels at 78% of 2019 levels. They’ve even increased nearly 400% compared to last year!

While yet again, Florida (15%), California (14%), and Hawaii (10%) claim a large majority of rental car bookings, there are some new entrants to the top 25 list. Nashville, TN (#19), Palm Springs, CA (#22), and San Jose, CA (#25) appear in the top 25 for the first time in the past two years. It does seem that travelers are more likely to rent a car in warm weather destinations, however we also see some winter adventure destinations in the top 25 as well: Denver (#6), Boston (#15), and Salt Lake City (#21).

Car Rental Destination Rankings and Rank Changes Compared to 2021

2021 RankingCity, State2020 RankingRank Change (2020 to 2021)2019 RankingRank Change (2019 to 2021)
1Phoenix, AZ3221
2Orlando, FL1-11-1
3Kahului, HI5252
4Las Vegas, NV733-1
5Honolulu, HI83105
6Denver, CO2-460
7Los Angeles, CA1254-3
8Tampa, FL91135
9Chicago, IL1568-1
10San Francisco, CA21117-3
11Lihue, HI10-1165
12Fort Lauderdale, FL4-89-3
13Kailua-kona, HI141207
14Dallas, TX24102511
15Boston, MA23812-3
16San Diego, CA20411-5
17Miami, FL11-6170
18Fort Myers, FL6-12268
19Nashville, TN2673415
20College Park, GA16-414-6
21Salt Lake City, UT254276
22Palm Springs, CA32104523
23Houston, TX18-515-8
24Austin, TX13-1122-2
25San Jose, CA5732272

Thanksgiving lodgers eat and run

While our recent survey data showed that most of those who are traveling for Thanksgiving are planning to stay with family and friends (*65%), some are planning to stay in a hotel (*31%) or a vacation rental (*15%), contributing to the continued tick back toward pre-pandemic booking levels for lodgings (*note: respondents could choose multiple accommodation types.)

And for those who’ve booked their own place to stay, most plan to (turkey) trot in and out.

Throughout this summer we saw as much as a 10x increase in the number of reservations for 8+ day trips. We also saw that for Thanksgiving 2020, there was a big shift toward longer stays as well, with 40% staying 5-7 days and 2.4% staying 8+ days. But is the ‘work from vacation home’ trend over? For Thanksgiving 2021, we are seeing the shift back toward shorter stays with the majority (64%) staying 3-4 days, 21% staying 5-7 days, and only .6% staying 8+ days.

Percentage of Lodging Reservations by Length of Stay

1-2 Days3-4 Days5-7 Days8+ Days

Even vacation rentals (a subset of lodging), where we have seen even stronger trends toward longer stays over the past year, have started to shift back toward shorter lengths. In fact, there is a lower percentage of people staying 8+ days this year than in 2019—5% vs. 8%. However, the majority are staying in vacation rentals longer than when compared to lodging trends overall; the majority (56%) will stay for 5-7 days in a vacation rental.

Percentage of Vacation Rentals by Length of Stay

1-2 Days3-4 Days5-7 Days8-13 Days

Overall lodging reservations continue to inch back toward normal (65% compared to 2019), as do vacation rentals (59%), and both well surpass last year at close to double 2020 levels.

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, NV2110
2New York, NY3120
3Orlando, FL1-230
4Chicago, IL161240
5Honolulu, HI6172
6San Diego, CA9382
7Los Angeles, CA1586-1
8San Francisco, CA1245-3
9Miami, FL2314134
10New Orleans, LA1999-1
11Boston, MA4433154
12Washington, DC221010-2
13Austin, TX2815174
14Nashville, TN11-32410
15Anaheim, CA216183
16Scottsdale, AZ5-11204
17Fort Lauderdale, FL14-316-1
18Miami Beach, FL246257
19Lahaina, HI4-1512-7
20Philadelphia, PA381814-6
21Houston, TX7857221
22Dallas, TX5533308
23Tampa, FL4522296
24Denver, CO13-1123-1
25Seattle, WA542911-14

However, while the top lodging destinations (Las Vegas, New York, Orlando, and Chicago, respectively) match those of Thanksgiving 2019, the top vacation rental destinations are still a bit in flux. Indeed, the top 25 list for vacation rentals shows significant rank shifts from both 2019 and 2020.

Vacation Rental Destination Rankings and Rank Changes Compared to 2021

2021 RankingCity, State2020 RankingRank Change (2020 to 2021)2019 RankingRank Change (2019 to 2021)
1San Diego, CA3221
2Portland, OR67651513
3Chicago, IL1381351613
4Palm Springs, CA1-31915
5New Orleans, LA46414-1
6Los Angeles, CA21151-5
7Seattle, WA14781
8Kissimmee, FL4-4146
9Nashville, TN5-4134
10Sedona, AZ2-8177
11Joshua Tree, CA22112312
12Kihei, HI3119120
13Washington, DC4330185
14Houston, TX3893753319
15Austin, TX11-45-10
16San Francisco, CA10286226
17Kailua-kona, HI967911497
18Princeville, HI95774527
19Honolulu, HI684911-8
20Tucson, AZ2993313
21Brooklyn, NY1841636-15
22Scottsdale, AZ7-1510-12
23Philadelphia, PA79567-16
24Charleston, SC77534420
25New York, NY44193-22

We hope that you and yours enjoy a safe and healthy Thanksgiving—whether you gather virtually or around the same table. TripIt is here to help you stay safe as you venture back out for holiday travel. 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 locate 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 October 18, 2020, and October 18, 2021, for travel during  the Thanksgiving holiday (Friday, November 19 - Sunday, November 28, 2021) with a U.S. origin, and equivalent booking periods  in 2020 and 2019. Reservation data in TripIt is provided by users and is booking provider agnostic.