With coronavirus cases continuing to spike, fewer Americans will be traveling for the December holidays this year than they did during the Thanksgiving break. However, those who do plan to travel are more likely to fly, potentially leading to busy airports and crowded flights.
Whether consumers ultimately decide to get away or stay put, a recent ValuePenguin survey of more than 1,000 consumers in the U.S. shows that both decisions are contributing to rising tensions among family members.
- More than twice as many consumers plan to fly for the December holidays than they did for Thanksgiving, though fewer will travel overall. About 23% of Americans will travel for the December holidays, while 32% had planned to travel over Thanksgiving. However, 7% plan to fly for Christmas, but just 3% had planned to do so for Thanksgiving.
- A quarter of Americans reported holiday plan-related tension with their family. Of that group, 57% said they argued over whether they should see each other amid the pandemic, while 36% sparred over the size of their gathering.
- For holiday-gathering safety guidelines, 51% of consumers said they’re relying on the CDC as a trusted source, followed by city or state restrictions (36%). However, some sources consumers are turning to may not be as authoritative: 27% are turning to family or friends and 18% to social media.
- Half of holiday travelers purchased travel insurance for their trip. Men and younger Americans were more likely to insure their trip compared to women and baby boomers.
Fewer Americans will travel for December holidays compared to Thanksgiving, but more will fly
Back in mid-October, when ValuePenguin asked consumers about their Thanksgiving plans, nearly a third (32%) said they planned to travel. Of those consumers, most planned to drive and only 3% intended to reach their destination by plane.
ValuePenguin conducted a separate survey a few weeks later, asking consumers how they planned to celebrate the December holidays. This time, a smaller percentage — 23% — planned to travel than during the Thanksgiving holiday. However, of those who will be leaving home, 7% expect to do so by plane. While fewer consumers, overall, will be venturing away from home, a higher percentage of travelers appear ready to take to the skies again.
Despite the increase in travelers planning to fly, the largest percentage — 47% — will be hitting the road in either their own vehicle or one owned by another traveler. However, older travelers appear to be most wary, as no baby boomers surveyed said they planned to fly, compared to more than a third of travelers under 55 who plan to do so.
When it comes to overall travel:
- Baby boomers are also least likely to travel in any capacity. In fact, 27% of both millennials and Gen Z plan to travel, compared to 26% of Gen X and only 8% of baby boomers.
- Parents with children under 18 are less likely to stay home this December holiday season. Nearly a third (32%) of parents with kids under 18 plan to travel while only 15% of those with adult kids or no children will go away for the holidays.
- With many Americans struggling financially during the pandemic, some may not have the finances to get away. Those with the highest salaries were most likely to be traveling this December holiday season, with 41% of those who earn more than $100,000 are planning to travel compared to 15% of those who earn between $50,000 and $74,000.
Holiday travelers expect to spend more money than last year
Traveling always costs money, but this year more than half of those (56%) who plan to travel for the holidays expect to spend more money than they did last year. For travelers with children under 18, a whopping 70% expect to spend more this year than last year.
"This holiday season, it's all about traveling safely," says Stella Shon, travel credit cards writer for ValuePenguin. "Holiday travelers are more willing to invest in flights, stays or cleaner and safer experiences. In previous years, the average traveler may not have splurged on a business or first-class ticket, booked a four- or five-star hotel or reserved individual tours rather than bigger group tours to save money."
COVID-19 testing may also contribute to added costs. "Many destinations require proof of a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival," Shon says. "Tests can be quite expensive, ranging from $75 to upwards of $300 per test — if taken last minute."
While consumers may be spending more, many are looking for strategic ways to save:
On top of that, “welcome bonuses for travel rewards cards have never been better than they are now,” says Shon. So if you get a new card, you will be able to “lock in that welcome bonus and enjoy the various travel coverages that come with your card,” Shon adds.
Once winter holiday travelers arrive at their destinations, the largest percentage — 47% — will be staying with friends or family. However, 35% are planning to check into a hotel and 12% are making plans to stay in an Airbnb. Some travelers may be less inclined than usual to stay with friends and family this year because it’s important to keep social circles small because of the pandemic, Shon points out. That could lead to an increased lodging budget, which raises prices overall.
1 in 4 Americans report arguments with family over holiday plans and pandemic safety measures
As Americans grapple with whether they should travel during the holiday season, some are having disagreements with family members about travel plans. In fact, a quarter of Americans say they’ve argued with their family over holiday plans this year.
Not only are families arguing about whether they should gather together in the first place, but more than a third (36%) are having disagreements about how large or small family gatherings should be. Some are focused on trying to balance getting together with taking precautions to avoid transmission of the coronavirus. In fact, nearly 1 in 5 Americans (19%) have argued with family members about what safety precautions are necessary leading up to the holiday family gathering.
Younger Americans have been more likely to get into arguments over holiday travel plans. For example, nearly a third of Gen Z (32%) and millennials (31%) report arguments, versus 27% of Gen X and 6% of baby boomers. Also, parents of young children have been more likely to get into disagreements about family travel plans during the December holiday season. In fact, 36% of parents with kids under 18 report arguments over holiday plans, compared to only 16% of those who have no children and those with children over 18.
Americans primarily rely on CDC recommendations for holiday safety guidelines
Some family arguments have been about safety precautions being taken for family gatherings, yet many Americans have questions about what is safe and what is not. To inform themselves about how to protect their families during the COVID-19 crisis, consumers are turning to a variety of sources. However, not all sources have the same level of credibility.
The largest percentage of respondents — 51% — have looked to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for guidance. The No. 2 source of information has been city or state restrictions, cited by 36%. However, consumers are also turning to sources that may not be as trustworthy:
- 27% are looking to family or friends for safety advice
- 19% are simply trusting their gut instincts
- 18% are getting their safety advice from social media
With Americans looking to so many different sources for advice, it’s likely family members will have different ideas about what safety precautions should be taken. As a result, disagreements could erupt over what steps to take even when all family members agree that safety precautions are necessary.
ValuePenguin researchers also wanted to know which modes of transportation consumers believed to be the safest for holiday travel during the pandemic.
Driving one’s own car was considered the safest option while airplanes, trains and buses were considered the least safe. According to the CDC, trains, buses, airplanes and other forms of public transportation put consumers at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus.
However, it’s important to note that there are also risks with driving to your destination. For example, restroom stops and food breaks at restaurants along the way could put you and your family at risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
Travel tips for the holidays
If you’re planning to travel this holiday season, consider the following tips whether you take to the road or the skies.
- Consider buying additional travel insurance. Half of holiday travelers purchased travel insurance for their trip and an additional 22% said their credit card provides travel insurance. However, “most travel insurance under your credit card will not cover the ongoing pandemic as a reason for trip cancellation or interruption,” says Shon. “As this is a publicly known event, this coverage will not protect you as it assumes you are fully aware of the risks associated with travel during this time.” A "cancel anytime" travel insurance policy could give you better protection.
- Use a travel rewards credit card. Points and miles expire and devalue when they sit in your account balances, so take advantage of any rewards you already have. If you decide at the last minute to cancel, “many airlines and hotels have much more lenient trip cancellation policies in light of the coronavirus, so you should be able to get your loyalty points back with no problems,” Shon says.
- Check your destination for restrictions and guidelines. Some states require you to quarantine when you arrive while others might require you to produce a negative COVID-19 test to gain entry.
- Consider getting tested. Even if your destination does not require you to be tested for the coronavirus, doing so before your trip and quarantining while you await the results may give you and your family extra peace of mind that you won’t transmit the virus to loved ones.
- Bring extra cleaning supplies. Not only might you want to disinfect surfaces if you take a break at a rest stop, but you may feel more comfortable giving a hotel room an extra cleaning as well. Also, some hotels are only cleaning rooms before and after a guest’s stay.
ValuePenguin commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,062 consumers in the U.S., with the sample base proportioned to represent the overall population. We defined generations as the following ages in 2020:
- Generation Z: 18 to 23
- Millennial: 24 to 39
- Generation X: 40 to 54
- Baby boomer: 55 to 74
The survey was fielded Nov. 19-24, 2020.