AAA offers tips to increase travel safety, decrease stress
A strong desire to travel among those who stayed home last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been driving holiday travel volume all year and the end of the year holiday travel season is no exception.
“If there is one thing AAA has been seeing, it is pent-up demand for travel. Whether folks are hitting the road for an overdue visit with friends and family, or planning a more significant getaway, there is little discouraging them,” says Morgan Dean, spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
AAA does not expect concerns related to the omicron variant to significantly impact year-end travel given that newly imposed travel restrictions apply only to international travel – not domestic, leisure travel. AAA expects both the roads and the airports to be extremely busy from Dec. 23 through New Year’s, as they have been over most holiday weekends since the COVID-19 vaccines became widely available.
Despite news of the new variant, the CDC has not changed its guidelines, maintaining that it is safe for those who are fully vaccinated to travel and, as of today, the United States is not considering vaccine mandates or any new requirements for domestic travel.
Drivers are getting a slight break on gas prices compared to what they were paying at Thanksgiving. In Virginia, gas was averaging $3.19 a gallon on Tuesday. That’s down two cents from last week, down eight cents from last month, but up $1.11 from a year ago. Historically, increased gas prices do not deter motorists who have made holiday travel plans. Instead, they adjust their budgets, spending less on accommodations, eating out or other expenses.
Airfare, hotels, car rentals
According to the AAA Leisure Travel Index:
Christmas week, AAA 3-Diamond hotels will be 36% more expensive than last year, airfares are up an average of 5% and car rentals will be up 20%. (Monday, Dec. 21 through Friday, Dec. 24)
New Year’s week, AAA 3-Diamond hotels will be 127% more expensive than last year, airfares are up an average of 27% and car rentals will be up 65%. (Monday Dec. 27 through Friday, Dec. 31)
Increased safety protocols
In the wake of COVID-19, the travel and hospitality industry has increased safety protocols to help people feel comfortable. Hotels have enhanced their cleaning procedures and housekeeping standards to meet the expectations of today’s traveler.
Every AAA Diamond-designated property must pass an unannounced inspection that includes physical examination of cleanliness and condition. Now, that examination also includes a scientific measurement to ensure cleanliness levels meet travelers’ expectations. Look for AAA ‘Inspected Clean’ designation when booking your hotel.
AAA Travel offers tips to increase safety and reduce stress
- Work with a trusted travel advisor: Given the potential for shifting travel restrictions in the wake of COVID-19, AAA strongly recommends working with a travel advisor who can help navigate any issues that may arise, and advise as to the best, safest options. AAA travel advisors are on hand at all AAA Retail locations.
- Consider travel insurance: travel insurance is relatively inexpensive for the peace of mind it provides in return but policies differ. AAA recommends insurance that allows travelers to ‘cancel for any reason’. A recent AAA survey found that about a third of all travelers are more likely to consider purchasing travel insurance specifically because of the pandemic.
- Book a vehicle checkup today: Whether driving to your year-end destination or driving to the airport, basic vehicle maintenance reduces your risk of a breakdown or battery failure. AAA will be busy providing Emergency Roadside Service to hundreds of thousands of Members forced to rethink their holiday plans because of a breakdown. This is an extremely busy time of year at AAA Car Centers and AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities as vehicle owners ready their cars for winter. Make an appointment today for a bumper-to-bumper vehicle ‘check-up’ which may not be available if you wait until the last minute.
- Expect delays and plan accordingly: whether you are planning to drive or fly to your holiday destination, give yourself extra time. Drivers should travel at off-peak times if possible. Flyers should get to the airport at least two hours prior to their flights if traveling domestically, three hours if traveling internationally.
- Understand and abide by CDC guidelines and local travel restrictions: the Omicron variant reminds us that we are still in flux and at risk of changes being imposed on where and how we can travel safely. Masking is still required in airports and most public transportation hubs. Knowing what is expected of travelers will save you time and reduce stress.
- Take additional precautions: drivers should make sure their AAA Membership is up to date so what could be a minor inconvenience does not become a major disruption to their holiday plans.
“Imagine waking up early to catch a flight only to discover your car does not start, or experiencing a breakdown while traveling a busy highway with a car full of kids,” Dean says. “Always travel with a fully-charged cellphone and program the AAA call center number or download the app so you will know who to contact in the event of a roadside emergency.”
In 2020, AAA responded to more than 800,000 members across the country over the year-end holiday. Most of the calls were for dead batteries and flat tires. In Virginia last year, AAA responded to more than 15,000 member calls for service over the holidays. More than 1/3 of those calls were for a tow.