How Holiday Travel Is Going to Be (Really) Different This Year

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Holidays Revised

COVID-19 has certainly shaken up holiday travel plans this year, but the global health crisis hasn't put the kibosh on year-end celebrations altogether. Instead, Americans are simply getting more creative with their plans, including travelers booking (much) longer visits at their destinations and seeking alternative lodging, opting for vacation rentals instead of hotels. A just released study from TripIt, based on an analysis of U.S. flight and lodging reservation data, provides a snapshot of what 2020 holiday travel will look like.

Related: Which Airlines Are Taking the Most COVID-19 Precautions?

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Round-Trips Are Lasting Longer …

Round-Trips Are Lasting Longer … Perhaps it's concerns about flying during a pandemic, or that families, friends, and loved ones have been separated for so long. Whatever the reason, Americans have decided to stay longer once they arrive at their Thanksgiving destination. Looking at travel plans alone shows that more than 40% of Thanksgiving flyers will stay through the Nov. 30 weekend, up 11% over last year.

Related: Vacation Rentals With Thanksgiving Dinner-Worthy Kitchens

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… and Lodging Customers Are Staying Longer

Data looking at reservations for hotels and other kinds of lodging shows the same thing: While in 2019, 66% of holiday lodging reservations were for three days or less, this year that's down to 55%, while travel durations of four to seven days are up 28%. And leading the pack by far? Reservations for a week or longer, which skyrocketed 86%.

Related: Marriott and Other Major Hotels That Now Require Guests to Wear Masks

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Some a Lot Longer

Even more travelers have decided to extend Thanksgiving travel through the second week of December, up 50% from 2019. "People are traveling with intention, whether that's taking advantage of flexible schedules or simply getting more out of their trips since it requires more planning," TripIt's Kelly Soderlund says.

Related: Great Winter Vacation Rentals for Big Families Under $100 a Night

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Some Until Christmas

The most eye-popping shift revealed by the TripIt data is the number of travelers who plan to stay all the way through Christmas: up a whopping 156% over last year.

Related: 29 Holiday Houseguest Horror Stories

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And Did We Mention New Year's?

A small number of travelers will even stay at their vacation destination past Christmas: 3% plan to stay right through to 2021. That may seem small, but it's all about the context. "It is a small proportion, but considering that just 1% of travelers booked that length of stay in 2019 — when more travelers were taking to the sky — that increase becomes more impactful," TripIt says. The year-over-year change in travelers staying all the way through Jan. 1 is a 244% increase.

New year's 2021

Hotels Are Out And Vacation Rentals Are In

Americans' preference for accommodations this year is also different: Hotel rooms are losing out to services such as Airbnb and VRBO. Vacation rentals of homes are up 27% this year as compared with 2019.

Related: The Most Remote Vacation Rentals Around the World

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Big Cities Are Out as Travel Destinations …

Big Cities Are Out as Travel Destinations … Travelers aren't planning to spend all this travel time in big metro destinations. TripIt data indicates they're instead opting for locales that allow for celebrating the holidays in the sunshine or snow. The No. 1 vacation rental destination this year is Denver, gateway to the Rockies and all things ski-related, up three slots from last year. Phoenix, which offers similar access to wide-open spaces, is No. 2 as a rental destination, up four slots. What made way? New York City was the top vacation destination last year, but its popularity has plummeted with coronavirus; this year it just misses being in the top 10. Los Angeles has dropped from second on the list of destinations to fifth. 

Related: 14 Holiday Road Trips You Can Still Take Amid Coronavirus

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… Smaller is Better for Vacation Reservations

Park City, Utah, soared to the top of the vacation rental and reservations pack this year, jumping 19 slots. Coming in second is Lahaina, Hawaii, up eight from last year, followed by Kihei, Hawaii (up two positions), and San Diego, which increased its position by three slots. Rounding out the top five in 2020 is Breckenridge, Colorado, up six slots from 2019.

Other destinations that made notable leaps forward this year in vacation rental popularity include Leavenworth, Washington (up 21 slots to No. 6); Mammoth Lakes, California (up 25 slots to reach No. 16); Asheville, North Carolina (up 36 to land in 19th place); and last, but far from least, Estes Park, Colorado, which jumped 77 slots this year to come in at No. 20.

Related: The Most Overlooked Travel Cities in America