For the 10th consecutive year, travel is expected to increase for the Christmas-New Year holiday period compared to last year’s holiday, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California.

The Auto Club expects 8.7 million Southern Californians will take trips of 50 miles or more this holiday – an increase of 4.8 percent from last year and the highest number since AAA began tracking holiday travel estimates.

By the numbers

More than 88 percent of local and statewide travelers are expected to drive to their destinations, while 8 percent will fly and less than 4 percent will go by other means such as train, bus or cruise. Below are this year’s Auto Club holiday travel projections for the year-end holiday period, defined as the 11 days from Dec. 22 to Jan. 1:

  • 8.7 million Southern Californians will travel during the holiday period, an increase of 4.8 percent.
  • 7.7 million Southern Californians will travel by car, an increase of 4.8 percent.
  • 712,000 million Southern Californians will travel by air, an increase of 5.6 percent.
  • 269,000 Southern Californians will travel by other means, an increase of 3.3 percent.

“Lower unemployment, higher wages and continued consumer confidence are the major reasons we are booking more trips for our members during this holiday and throughout the past year,” Filomena Andre, the Auto Club’s vice president for travel products and services, said in a prepared statement.

Andre recommends that air travelers arrive at the airport at least two hours early for domestic flights and three hours early for international flights, particularly if their departure is on the three most congested days for flights – Saturday, Dec. 22, Sunday, Dec. 23 and Wednesday, Dec. 26.

An analysis of AAA’s flight booking data reveals that last-minute airfares for the holiday purchased before Dec. 18 could actually be lower than those booked in October and November, although availability will be limited. Travelers who planned ahead this year paid an average of $561 round trip, while those who book last-minute are expected to pay an average of $488 round-trip.

Top Travel Destinations

Anaheim is expected to be the No. 3 destination nationwide for travelers, according to AAA Travel booking data, with Orlando at No. 1 and Cancun at No. 2. The top 5 destinations for Southern California travelers, according to a survey of Auto Club travel agents, are:

  1. San Diego
  2. Las Vegas
  3. Santa Barbara
  4. San Francisco
  5. Mexico (cruises and resort trips)

Holiday Hotspots

Based on historical and recent travel trends, INRIX expects drivers to experience the greatest amount of congestion before the holiday week – starting on Wednesday, Dec. 19 – as commuters and holiday travelers mix.

In Los Angeles, the worst time be on the road for a holiday trip will be Thursday, Dec. 20 from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. as traffic is expected to increase.

The Auto Club and INRIX advise travelers to leave either very early in the morning or immediately after the normal morning commute to avoid traffic.

Gas Prices

Southern California gas prices have dropped dramatically in recent weeks and many local holiday travelers should be able to fill up their tanks for less than $3 a gallon as cheaper oil continues to put downward pressure on prices.

More Than 218,000 California Motorists Will Need AAA Roadside Assistance

The Auto Club and AAA in Northern California expect to come to the rescue of more than 218,000 motorists statewide over this holiday period. Dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires will be the top reasons for member calls.