Only 3% of Americans Will Fly Over Thanksgiving

Only 3% of Americans Will Fly Over Thanksgiving

COVID-19 worries and travel restrictions are keeping most families close to home, many in smaller groups.

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mother and daughter doing dishes on Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, there will be far fewer air travelers and more modified celebrations, mostly because of worries over COVID-19 risks. In fact, just 3% of more than 2,000 American consumers in a recent ValuePenguin survey said they will be flying outside their home state for the holiday weekend. What’s more, one-third of people plan to spend Turkey Day with just their immediate household.

Here’s a closer look at how Thanksgiving travel plans (and related spending) may be different this year.

Key findings

  • Only 3% of Americans plan to fly to another state over the Thanksgiving holiday. The majority (59%) are staying home, while 19% are driving to another city within their state.
  • Coronavirus risk was the major deciding factor for making Thanksgiving plans, according to 49% of consumers. The next most popular consideration was what their family wants to do (41%), followed by traditions (31%).
  • 57% of Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving with people they do not live with. Notably, 22% of Gen Z will see their grandparents in-person, as will 11% of millennials (7% overall).
  • 4 in 10 respondents said they expect arguments at the dinner table this Thanksgiving. Of that group, most (40%) think politics will be the cause.

Few consumers will fly this Thanksgiving

The airports are going to be relatively quiet during what is traditionally one of the busiest air travel weeks of the year: Just 3% of consumers are planning to travel by plane out of state. As for the rest, about 6 in 10 plan to stay home, close to 3 in 10 plan to hit the road by car and almost 1 in 10 still haven’t decided what they’re doing.

American's Thanksgiving Travel Plans

Fewer flights also means less in travel costs for most, with consumers planning to spend just $140.72 on Thanksgiving-related travel this year. Parents with kids under age 18 will spend a bit more — $240.94.

There are many reasons to spend less on Thanksgiving travel this year, said Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at LendingTree (the parent company of ValuePenguin). “Many simply can’t afford to, having lost their jobs or seen their income slashed because of COVID. Others have the financial means but are understandably still squeamish about travel, with COVID having made a big comeback throughout the nation in recent weeks.”

On the bright side, 71% Thanksgiving travelers plan to use a reward credit card and earn points from their plane, train, bus or car trip.

“With so many people not traveling in the past six to nine months, lots of folks have been stockpiling points and miles during that time,” said Schulz. For those willing to take a chance and get on a plane or stay in a hotel over the holidays, it could mean big savings.

Others who aren’t going far can still use rewards to save money at the gas station or extend their grocery budget. “If you’re not taking advantage of credit card rewards, you’re leaving money on the table,” said Schulz.

About half based Thanksgiving plans on coronavirus risk

There’s no doubt that the pandemic has weighed heavily on the minds of families trying to decide if they need to scale back their typical Thanksgiving get-togethers. Just about half (49%) said the coronavirus risk was the top consideration, followed by what their family wants to do (41%) and traditions (31%).

Factors consumers considered when making Thanksgiving plans

Coronavirus risk also may explain why 35% of Americans have decided the safest bet is to spend the day with just the people they live with. But some do plan to celebrate with family and friends outside the household, including parents (20%), siblings (18%), adult children (14%) and grandparents (7%). Just 12% said they are having dinner out at a restaurant.

How consumers will celebrate Thanksgiving amid the coronavirus pandemic
Who consumers plan to see in-person on Thanksgiving

40% expect arguments at the dinner table, especially about politics

With a contentious election and pandemic tension dominating the headlines all year, it’s no surprise that many consumers are anticipating heated discussions around the dinner table. The age group most likely to expect an argument were millennials, while more men than women said fighting was inevitable.

Politics was selected as the top hot button issue by 4 in 10 respondents (no surprise there), with family drama the second-most chosen topic (31%). Rounding out the top three was a brand new 2020-specific category — pandemic-related disagreements (20%).

Topics some consumers expect arguments about at the Thanksgiving dinner table

Tips for a safer Thanksgiving

With so much uncertainty, Thanksgiving travel plans and day-of celebrations will probably look different — and perhaps cost less — this year for many families. Here are some public health guidelines for celebrating Thanksgiving in the safest way possible amid the pandemic:

Celebrate in smaller groups. Though every family situation is unique, consider scaling back the large group gatherings of the past to just your immediate household, as per guidance from the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You can invite others to your “virtual” Thanksgiving table, of course.

Minimize travel. As infection rates rise, more people are opting for car travel over flying, while many others are staying at home. Staying home is the best way to keep your loved ones safe, however.

Follow safety precautions. If you are gathering, consider moving your feast outdoors, spread out and wear masks except for when you’re eating, advises the CDC. In addition, wash your hands often, don’t share utensils (single-use plastic is best) and open windows in the house to increase ventilation.

While it might be hard to be separated from loved ones, knowing they’re safe and spending less on travel are two upsides you can focus on. “Maybe some of that money saved on travel can go to a little more food on the Thanksgiving table or maybe a little nicer gift for someone for Christmas,” said Schulz.

Methodology

ValuePenguin commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 2,021 Americans, with the sample base proportioned to represent the overall population. The survey was fielded Oct. 9-13, 2020.

Generations are defined as the following ages in 2020:

  • Gen Z: Ages 18-23
  • Millennials: Ages 24-39
  • Gen X: Ages 40-54
  • Baby boomers: Ages 55-74
  • Silent generation: Ages 75 and older

Dawn Papandrea is a writer specializing in personal finance topics including credit cards, family finances and consumer issues. Her work has appeared on a number of financial websites including LendingTree, ValuePenguin, MagnifyMoney, CreditCards.com, BankRate.com, U.S. News & World Report, as well as publications including Family Circle. Dawn has a master’s degree in journalism from New York University. Follow her on Twitter: @dawnpapandrea.

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How We Calculate Rewards: ValuePenguin calculates the value of rewards by estimating the dollar value of any points, miles or bonuses earned using the card less any associated annual fees. These estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone, not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

Example of how we calculate the rewards rates: When redeemed for travel through Ultimate Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred points are worth $0.0125 each. The card awards 2 points on travel and dining and 1 point on everything else. Therefore, we say the card has a 2.5% rewards rate on dining and travel (2 x $0.0125) and a 1.25% rewards rate on everything else (1 x $0.0125).