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Get ready for crowded roads, busy airports, and longer lines than last year at gas stations, roadside eateries, and other travel stops. AAA predicts a near-return to pre-pandemic travel levels during the Thanksgiving holiday.

The travel services company predicts that 53.4 million Americans will travel during the holiday, according to a press release. That’s a 13% increase from 2020, which was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and it will bring total travel volume within 5% of 2019, before the pandemic. 

Air travel has experienced the biggest rebound, with AAA expecting an 80% increase over last year.

“This Thanksgiving, travel will look a lot different than last year,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel. “Now that the borders are open and new health and safety guidelines are in place, travel is once again high on the list for Americans who are ready to reunite with their loved ones for the holiday.”

Travel will be further crowded and complicated due to U.S. borders being opened to fully vaccinated global travelers.

Travel brands try to capitalize

Booking Holdings (NASDAQ: BKNG) Priceline.com brand hopes to capture some of this rebounding traffic with a Black Friday week of sales on hotel rooms, rental cars, flights, cruises, and more. 

Starting on Black Friday and running through Cyber Monday, Priceline will offer 10% off its Express Deals sitewide while it will also offer “flash” sales popping up throughout the holiday weekend.

"With the demand for travel rebounding and in some cases surpassing 2019 levels, we want our customers to feel confident knowing they secured the best travel deal." said Priceline CEO Brett Keller in a press release.

Airbnb (NASDAQ: ABNB) has decided to give in to customer demand and offer gift certificates this holiday season. 

The company has launched digital gift cards, which can be delivered via email or text, in eight countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Germany, Spain, Italy, and France.

Like AAA, Airbnb expects a busy holiday season and has seen a 40% increase in nights booked during Thanksgiving compared to 2019.

Travel sales won’t be limited to places to stay and airfare. Royal Caribbean (NYSE: RCL) has a holiday sale running from Nov. 24 though Nov. 30, according to the RoyalCaribbean Blog (which is not affiliated with the company). 

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Sale prices can vary quite a bit by sailing, but the core offering is $75 off for interior and ocean view rooms, $100 off for balconies, and a $200 discount for suites on sailings of five nights or less. 

Customers booked six nights or longer trips will save $100 on interior and ocean view rooms, $150 for balconies and $400 for suites.

The company also has its standard Black Friday sale where it offers discounted price on onboard amenities like drink packages, shore excursions, and specialty dining. 

Customers who have already booked a cruise may still be eligible for savings, according to the blog’s owner Matt Hochberg. That’s a bit of an unwieldy process where the customer has to check to see if the price has dropped and then must request the lower rate.

“​The most straight forward method for seeing if there is a price drop is to go to Royal Caribbean's website and do a mock booking,” wrote Hochberg.

In some cases, customers will receive a rebate while in others, an onboard credit will be issued.

Travel is back

While travel may not eclipse pre-pandemic levels, it has clearly recovered although capacity remains constrained in certain areas. 

Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS), for example, has still been using a reservation system at its Disney World Florida theme parks at least partially because it has maintained some capacity constraints. 

The company has not commented on exactly what those limitations are yet.

Disney has also halted sales of most annual passes at its Florida parks likely because passholder reservations are largely fully booked through the end of the year.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) also expects a near-return-to normal during the period between Friday, Nov. 19, through Sunday, Nov. 28. It’s expecting to screen “about 20 million passengers during the Thanksgiving holiday,” according to a press release.

Typically, the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after it are the busiest travel days for people flying, according to the TSA. The Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2019 set record for screened passengers at nearly 2.9 million

“We anticipate that travel may be very close to pre-pandemic levels this holiday, and we are staffed and prepared for the holiday travelers,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske in the press release. “With overall vaccination rates improving nationwide and greater confidence in healthy travel, there will be more people traveling so plan ahead, remain vigilant and practice kindness.”