Home for the Holidays: 61% of Americans Plan to Take a Staycation Before Year End [Survey]

Fall and winter holidays are going to look very different in 2020: fewer Americans will travel, participate in typical activities, and shop in-person this year.

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Updated May 13, 2024
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‘Tis the season for carving pumpkins, drinking hot cider, and spending time with loved ones. Typically, that might mean flying to be close to extended family during the holidays. But fall travel in 2020 will look very different than in previous years, according to the latest FinanceBuzz survey.

Airports may have been crowded around Thanksgiving of 2019, but our results reveal that holiday travel will be way down this year, with Americans opting for staycations instead. You won’t find hordes of shoppers fighting over the last Nintendo Switch on Black Friday this year, either. Instead, people will be staying home, stacking their bank accounts before the holidays, and spending that money online. And as families do their best to prevent the spread of COVID-19, fewer Americans will be trick-or-treating, apple picking, and skiing.

FinanceBuzz surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults to find out their travel and activity plans for the remainder of fall heading into winter. Results revealed the coronavirus is still a major concern for most households, and that’s going to impact lifestyles over the holidays.

Key Findings

  • Travel will continue to look different for the remainder of 2020: 61% of Americans plan to take a staycation by the end of the year. That's more than the number who plan to take a road trip (47%) or fly somewhere (12%).
  • To fly or not to fly? Forty-nine percent of Americans don't plan to take a flight for at least a year. That's almost the same number (48%) who said they wouldn't fly for at least a year when we asked the same question in May.
  • Despite the uncertainty around travel because of COVID-19, most travelers aren't taking precautions to protect their finances — just 9% are booking refundable options and 6% are buying travel insurance.
  • Fewer plan to partake in traditional fall activities: 32% said they're less likely to go apple or pumpkin picking this year and 48% are less likely to go trick-or-treating.
  • Another big fall activity: Black Friday shopping. More than half of shoppers (57%) said they're less likely to hit the shops in person this year on Black Friday.

Uncertainty means Americans are putting off travel plans and staying home

Sixty-one percent of Americans plan to take a staycation by the end of the year. That's more than the number who plan to take a road trip (47%) or fly somewhere (12%). If you need some staycation inspiration, here are 13 quarantine vacation ideas. And if you’re planning to hit the road, don’t forget to pack these road trip essentials.

Uncertainty around COVID-19 is also changing how Americans are approaching fall travel — 24% of respondents said they're putting off planning due to uncertainty. Despite the uncertainty, most travelers aren't taking precautions to protect their finances — 9% are booking refundable options, and just 6% are buying travel insurance.

Most travel insurance options won’t cover cancellations due to COVID-19, whether you’ve paid cash or need to cancel an award trip you paid for with points and miles. If you’re worried you’ll need to cancel because of the pandemic, be sure to take other precautions. Some hotels and Airbnbs have flexible cancellation policies, and some airlines will allow you to change your dates more easily than others. You might also consider “Cancel for Any Reason” insurance, which is typically an upgrade from comprehensive travel insurance and is usually pricey. It’ll allow you to cancel your trip within a certain time frame and get your money back.

The ground stop continues for most Americans

Nearly half of all Americans aren’t planning to get on a plane for at least another year. In a May FinanceBuzz summer travel survey, 48% of Americans said they were planning to wait at least a year before flying. Four months later, almost the same number (49%) of Americans say they don't plan to take a flight until at least a year from now. Some Americans are optimistic, however: 16% predict they will travel by plane before the end of the year.

Although air travel has been ticking up slightly in recent months, U.S. airlines are still hurting, reporting a net loss of $11 billion in the second quarter of 2020. Air travel is down about 65% compared to October of last year, according to the TSA. Back in April, the number of airline passengers was down closer to 95%.

To help passengers feel safer when traveling, most airlines have enacted stricter mask rules and upgraded sanitation protocols. And most have been forced to relax their change/cancellation policies to accommodate customers’ uncertainty about the future.

'Tis the season to opt out of fall and winter activities

Many fall and winter activities we’ve grown accustomed to have become unsafe due to the current health crisis. Although it was once tradition to snap a photo of your kid on Santa’s lap, you’ll have to tell your kids that Santa isn’t immune to COVID-19 (which might also provide a convenient excuse later if you miss something on their wishlist. Santa can be very forgetful when he has a fever.)

We asked our survey participants about some of their typical fall and winter activities and found that many are forgoing some classic traditions. Pumpkin patches and apple orchards will be emptier this year, as 32% of respondents said they’re less likely to visit. And almost half (48%) said they’re less likely to go trick-or-treating this year. That’s probably a good choice, as recent CDC guidelines warn against trick-or-treating. If you need a virtual alternative, your kids can trick-or-treat online all month long with Treat Town.

Come Thanksgiving, we’ll likely see a trend of smaller tables, as 40% of respondents said they’re less likely to have Thanksgiving with extended family, and 48% said they’re less likely to do a Friendsgiving celebration this year. And the chaos of Black Friday will be reduced to a mere murmur. Fifty-seven percent of shoppers said they’re less likely to hit their favorite stores in person this year. The good news? If you shop online, you’ll be able to take advantage of handy cashback sites and apps to easily save some money.

Those who typically participate in winter sports might miss out this year as well. Even if ski resorts are able to open this winter, 44% of skiers and snowboarders said they’re less likely to hit the slopes. Some winter activities can’t be taken away from us, however. CDC guidelines do not require snowmen to wear masks, and you’re free to build as many as you want.

4 Ways to Maximize Rewards This Fall and Holiday Season

  1. Use a cashback credit card for gas on your road trip. Gas prices are low, and some of the best credit cards for gas offer robust rewards on fuel, so you may be able to hit the road for less. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers 3% cash back on U.S. gas stations and eligible transit, so you can use it on your road trip and keep using it when you start flying again. Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit.
  2. Book your stay with a rewards card. If you’re renting a home nearby, make sure you use a credit card that will earn rewards. The best credit cards for Airbnb and the best credit cards for Vrbo can help you earn valuable points on your bookings, which you can use to offset the cost of future travel.
  3. Put a cashback strategy in place for your online Black Friday shopping. If you’re shopping online, choose the site or app that will provide you with the highest cashback amount for the stores where you plan to spend the most. Learn how to earn cash back at Walmart and uncover Target’s cashback secrets to save big this holiday season.
  4. Plan for future travel now. With most credit cards, points never expire. It’ll be well worth your while to start making purchases with a rewards card now and cash in your points for free travel once you feel comfortable flying again. A good strategy might be to use the Chase Freedom Unlimited or Chase Freedom Flex card to earn major cash back on groceries in the first year. Once it comes time to book a trip, you can apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card and transfer your points to make them even more valuable toward travel.


FinanceBuzz surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,000 U.S. adults on Sept. 16, 2020.

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Lindsay Frankel

Lindsay Frankel is a Denver-based freelance writer who specializes in credit cards, travel, budgeting/saving, and shopping. She has been featured in several finance publications, including LendingTree. When she's not writing, you can find her enjoying the great outdoors, playing music, or cuddling with her rescue pup.