Holiday travel trends: Longer trips, cheaper flights and last-minute travel plans

The holiday season, like everything else, will look different in 2020.

That’s especially true for travel. Despite KAYAK’s data showing that lower prices and flexible travel options are more accessible now than ever, travel interest for the winter holidays is still seeing drastic declines. Domestic flight searches are down 81% and hotel searches are down 74%, compared to the same holiday period last year.

But if we look at 2020 travel trends to know what to expect in an unexpected year, this may not be the full story. Ahead of the 2020 summer holidays (Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day), KAYAK saw travel interest pick up about 40 days ahead of the respective holidays and peak one day prior. So if summer travel behavior is any indication, it seems like travelers are waiting longer to book.

According to a recent survey of 1,116 Americans, 45% revealed they haven’t yet made plans to travel this holiday season. So while some travelers will be staying home for the holidays, it looks like others may just be slacking on their holiday plans.

We dug into our data and found some key insights to help you prepare for your own plans. Read on for the travel trends popping this holiday season.

Extended stays are the new short getaways.

With the majority of colleges wrapping up the semester mid-November and many offices continuing to offer flexible work from home policies, holiday travel can start sooner and end later. KAYAK’s data shows a substantial increase in searches for trip durations of seven to 28+ days for flights compared to the prior year for the same time period. In fact, flight searches for trips of 28+ days are up 24% compared to last year. So, if you’ve been considering giving that digital nomad life a try, you’re not alone.

Spontaneous trips gain momentum.

It’s hard to plan ahead with so much uncertainty around COVID-19. So it makes sense that last-minute travel continues to trend. According to KAYAK data, hotel searches within two days of travel have increased significantly year over year (from 55% in 2019 to 64% in 2020). Flight searches follow a similar trend with searches for less than two weeks up from 27% in 2019 to 36% in 2020. But with most airlines all but doing away with change fees, travelers may want to consider taking advantage of that great flight price and making a call closer to their travel dates.

Alternative accommodations are on the rise.

Travelers are getting creative with their travel plans. In addition to booking last-minute and planning longer trips, they’re also in the market for alternative accommodations, such as cabins, chalets, cottages or RVs. These rentals and unique accommodations account for 8% of holiday clicks compared to 7% in 2019. Staying in a rental may offer more privacy, fewer interactions with staff and other guests and – for travelers staying longer, especially – a feeling of being at home (but the benefit of it being not your home). If you’re considering alternative accommodations during the holidays, here are our tips.

KAYAK has access to more than 450,000 rentals and unique accommodations in the United States alone. Find rentals alongside hotels in your search results, or filter to find exactly what you’re looking for. From castles to cabins, here’s what you might find when you search rentals and unique accommodations on KAYAK.

Destinations with outdoor activities motivate winter travelers.

Major cities that typically lure US travelers with over-the-top holiday cheer are being replaced with warm weather destinations and ski towns. New York, Rome and Paris are seeing drops in interest with searches down up to 85% year over year, while Jackson, Wyoming, St. Thomas, Bozeman, Montana and Anchorage, Alaska are among the top trending destinations when compared to 2019.

Travelers are hitting the road.

Rental car searches are up 129% year over year. Renting a car while traveling is a great way to go farther, see more and map your own adventure. You can also be stay more easily in control of travel touchpoint, an important safety point that has attracted so many to 2020 road trips. It’s always important to stay up-to-date on travel advisories and restrictions as you start planning. We’ve put together a guide of resources to help you get started – from an interactive travel restrictions map to tips for every part of your trip.

 

Methodology

  • For flight and hotel decreases, KAYAK considered flight and hotel searches for April 1 through December 7, 2020 for travel between April 1 to December 31, 2020 compared to the year prior.
  • YouGov Survey Methodology: This survey has been conducted using an online interview administered to members of the YouGov Plc panel of individuals who have agreed to take part in surveys. Emails are sent to panelists selected at random from the base sample. The e-mail invites them to take part in a survey and provides a generic survey link. Total sample size was 1,116 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between September 26th – 28th, 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US adults (aged 18+).
  • Top trending destinations are based on YoY search trends from April 1 through December 7, 2020 for travel between April 1 to December 31, 2020 compared to the year prior.
  • Data on extended stays is based on searches within the U.S. from April 1 through December 7, 2020 for travel between April 1 to December 31, 2020 compared to the year prior.
  • Last minute travel methodology: Data on last minute travel is based on US hotel clicks for search dates between 4/1 – 12/31 compared to same dates the year prior.
  • To determine the increase in alternative accommodations, we looked at hotel vs non hotel searches from April 1 through December 7, 2020 for travel between April 1 to December 31, 2020 compared to the year prior.
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