The year 2021 has been full of ups and downs, and twists and turns when it comes to travel. We’ve gone from near standstill to stronger-than-ever returns; from closed to the world, to reopened borders; from so much unknown, to scientific breakthroughs that have made travel feel safer again. And we are happy to say that the most wonderful time of the year is here, and for travel, that description rings extra true as we see some of the strongest numbers we’ve seen this year.

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

Our data shows that end-of-year holiday travel will be triple—and in one case, quadruple—the volume of last year, and inching ever closer to pre-pandemic levels. More findings and tips on how to finish the 2021 travel season strong are below. 

Current Percentage of Flight Reservations Compared to Years Prior

2021 Flights
2021 Flights
2021 Flights
2021 Car Rentals 2021 Lodging 2021 Vacation Rentals
Compared to 2020 320% 304% 373% 404% 271% 182%
Compared to 2019 51% 53% 47% 76% 61% 56%

Air travel soars—especially to warmer climates

While all airports can expect to be busy (more than 3x the volume we saw last year), there are some that will be busier than others:

  1. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) 
  2. San Francisco International Airport (SFO) 
  3. Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) 
  4. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
  5. John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
  6. Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)
  7. Denver International Airport (DEN)
  8. Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
  9. Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
  10. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DWF)

We can expect to see most travelers starting their trips on the Thursday (12/23) and Wednesday (12/22) before Christmas (Saturday, 12/25), as well as the Sunday (12/26) and Monday (12/27) before New Year’s Eve (Friday, 12/31).

And where are travelers heading? Similar to what we saw during Thanksgiving, major metros are rising back to the top, and travelers are eager to soak up some vitamin D as we see flights to California, Florida, and Hawaii claim 39% of all flights.

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)
1 Orlando, FL 2 1 1 0
2 Las Vegas, NV 6 4 4 2
3 Denver, CO 1 -2 3 0
4 Phoenix, AZ 3 -1 7 3
5 New York, NY 20 15 5 0
6 Cancun 4 -2 10 4
7 Los Angeles, CA 9 2 2 -5
8 Miami, FL 19 11 13 5
9 Fort Lauderdale, FL 8 -1 6 -3
10 Honolulu, HI 12 2 9 -1

Car rental surge sticks

Car rentals continue to be the transportation darling of 2021, with bookings reaching more than 4x the volume of last year and the transportation method closest to pre-pandemic levels. The busiest day for car rental pickup will be the day after Christmas (12/26) followed by the Tuesday before Christmas (12/21), and again we see Florida, California, and Hawaii taking the bulk of bookings (43%).

Car 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)
1 Denver, CO 1 0 1 0
2 Orlando, FL 2 0 2 0
3 Phoenix, AZ 5 2 6 3
4 Kahului, HI 3 -1 3 -1
5 Honolulu, HI 9 4 5 0
6 Salt Lake City, UT 8 2 9 3
7 Los Angeles, CA 14 7 4 -3
8 Miami, FL 12 4 11 3
9 Las Vegas, NV 13 4 8 -1
10 Fort Meyers, FL 4 -6 14 4

Lodging and vacation rentals

Lodging reservations are outpacing the return of flight bookings and inching ever closer to 2019 levels at 61% in 2021. The subset of vacation rentals aren’t far behind at 57% of 2019 reservations. 

Most travelers will stay in their hotel (57%) or vacation rental (37%) for 5-7 days; 34% will extend their vacation home (for the holidays) stay for a total of 8-13 days. And while 14+ day stays were popular this time last year, two-week and longer hotel (.5%) and vacation rental (2%) stays are back down, though still above 2019 levels (.2% for hotels and 1.8% for vacation rentals). One of the biggest shifts we saw was in the number of people staying in hotels for 1-2 days, which decreased 88% from pre-pandemic volumes (51% in 2019) to today (just 6% in 2021).

Percentage of Lodging Reservations by Length of Stay

1-2 Days 3-4 Days 5-7 Days 8-13 Days 14+ Days
2021 6% 35% 57% 1.5% .5%
2020 8% 26% 62% 3% 1.2%
2019 51% 31% 17% .8% .2%

Percentage of Vacation Rentals by Length of Stay

1-2 Days 3-4 Days 5-7 Days 8-13 Days 14+ Days
2021 4% 23% 37% 34% 2%
2020 4% 24% 40% 26% 5%
2019 3% 25% 46% 24% 1.8%

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)
1 Las Vegas, NV 2 1 2 1
2 New York, NY 3 1 1 -1
3 Orlando, FL 1 -2 3 0
4 Honolulu, HI 4 0 5 1
5 San Diego, CA 8 3 4 -1
6 Los Angeles, CA 14 8 6 0
7 Miami, FL 9 2 9 2
8 San Francisco, CA 19 11 7 -1
9 Chicago, IL 18 9 10 1
10 Scottsdale, AZ 12 2 22 12

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)
1 Kissimmee, FL 5 4 9 8
2 Park City, UT 1 -1 7 5
3 San Diego, CA 6 3 2 -1
4 Honolulu, HI 8 4 6 2
5 Breckenridge, CO 3 -2 10 5
6 Kihei, Hi 4 -2 8 2
7 Sedona, AZ 14 7 28 21
8 Palm Springs, CA 7 -1 13 5
9 New Orleans, LA 18 9 4 -5
10 Miami, FL 15 5 11 1

End-of-year holiday travel tips

From Jen Moyse, Sr. Director of Product, TripIt from Concur

  • Make a list, check it twice. COVID-19 has added things to our already long pre-travel checklist, but a trip can easily be ruined if you forget your vaccine card, negative COVID-19 test, face covering, or other essential documents required for your trip. Know what you need, and have them in hand and on your mobile device, when possible.  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.
  • Plan to leave early. And then add 30 minutes and leave even earlier. Lines and congestion will be the norm, not the exception, this holiday travel season. We are seeing volumes that are 3 or 4x the volumes of last year, so give yourself some buffer room, and worst case you get a few extra minutes to sit instead of stress. Consider signing up for TSA PreCheck, CLEAR, or both to help speed up your airport security experience. With a TripIt Pro subscription, you can try CLEAR on a four month free trial, plus you’ll receive a discounted annual rate of $149.
  • Brush up on winter driving safety. The rental car demand continues with 2021 reservations at 404% of 2020 and 76% of 2019. For those headed to northern states or the mountains, be sure to brush up on winter driving best practices. Make sure the car you’re renting is equipped with four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive, and plenty of windshield wiper fluid. Travelers going through mountain passes should also have snow chains, as they’re required during snowstorms. Check with your rental car provider to learn how to obtain proper equipment for your winter drive. Kitty litter or sand are always good supplies to keep in the trunk in case you get stuck in the snow. 
  • Pack a picnic for the airport. Based on our data and what we saw over Thanksgiving, airports will be packed—especially the Thursday and Wednesday before Christmas, and Sunday and Monday before New Year’s Eve. Not only does the influx of travelers mean longer lines at security, but also more difficulty popping into restaurants for a quick bite or enough time to grab a snack to go. To avoid hunger, pack more snacks than usual. Sandwiches, cheese and meat slices, or pre-packed meals like salads are good options, and likely more affordable than airport buys. Just be sure to avoid liquids (like salad dressing) over 3.4oz. Expect long lines and modified hours for restaurants at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), and John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), which will be the top five busiest airports. 
  • Track Rudolph, and your flight. Winter travel always comes with the risk of delays and cancellations due to weather. Keep an eye on your flight with alerts via TripIt Pro, or by checking directly with your airline. Keep in mind that even in clear weather conditions, airlines can still face delays and cancellations as a result of staffing issues, technical issues, or other unforeseen circumstances, so don’t let clear skies stop you from being vigilant.
  • Consider contactless check-in. Lodging reservations are recovering quickly, with 2021 bookings levels at 61% of 2019 and 271% of 2020. While Las Vegas, NV, New York, NY, Orlando, FL, Honolulu, HI, and San Diego, CA are the top five lodging destinations for the winter holidays, you can expect crowds at many popular destinations. See if your lodging destination offers online contactless check-in, including virtual room key access. Not only does this help you avoid the line at the check-in desk, it helps you maintain extra social distance.
  • Channel your inner Santa. You will need all the patience, like Santa-listening-to-hundreds-of-toddlers-requesting-gifts patience, so prepare and show up with a smile. Everyone will be doing their best, but travel is always a little stressful—and with COVID and the crowds, there could be hiccups. Spread cheer when possible.

Methodology: TripIt looked at  U.S. origin round-trip  flight, lodging, and rental car  reservations made between November 15, 2020, and November 15, 2021, for travel during  the Christmas – New Years holiday (Wednesday, December 22, 2021 – Monday, January 3, 2022) 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.

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