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Travelers should brace for lots of company on Labor Day weekend, especially internationally

<i>Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>Cars drive past the Eiffel Tower in Paris on August 16. Americans have been flocking to Europe all summer.
Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images
Cars drive past the Eiffel Tower in Paris on August 16. Americans have been flocking to Europe all summer.

By Forrest Brown, CNN

(CNN) — The 2023 travel craze is not letting up for the upcoming Labor Day weekend in the US, travel experts warn.

“Summer travel has been hot all season long with increased travel for Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. Expect the same for Labor Day,” online travel advice site The Vacationer reported this week.

“Travelers heading out of town over the long weekend should expect busy airports and long lines,” the travel app Hopper said in a news release.

AAA, the automotive and trip-planning group, said in a news release this week that Labor Day weekend travel will be up 4% over last year domestically, according to booking data.

That’s notable, but it’s the increase in international bookings for Labor Day weekend that’s jaw-dropping. Those bookings are up 44% over 2022.

Labor Day is on Monday, September 4, this year and is celebrated in Canada, too. The holiday weekend traditionally marks the end of the summer travel season, which is set up to go out with a crowded bang in 2023. Here’s what to know and tips for last-minute Labor Day travelers:

Behind the international travel bonanza

International travel has “increased drastically” compared with last year as Covid-19 pandemic restrictions faded worldwide, said Chris Cave, the CEO of FlightHub Group (the parent company of online travel sites and, in a news release.

“Europe has seen a surge in travel all year, with more people eager to see the world again without restrictions,” AAA said in its news release.

Even with wildfires threatening some areas, Canada is popular this time of year “because of its cooler temperatures and stunning scenery,” AAA said.

It also noted that international cruise bookings are up 44% over last year and that international hotel bookings for the holiday are up 82% compared with 2022.

AAA said its findings show the top five international destinations over Labor Day weekend to be Vancouver, Rome, London, Dublin and Paris.

Hopper said the top three international destinations booked for Labor Day weekend off its site are San Juan, Toronto and Cancun.

FlightHub, which breaks down its categories between North America and the rest of the world, said the top five international destinations booked on its site are the Philippines, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Turkey. In Canada, its top bookings are for the cities of Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver.

Haley Berg, lead economist at Hopper, told CNN Travel on Tuesday that she’s spotted some last-minute round-trip deals to Europe for Labor Day weekend. They include:

• New York City to Dublin as low as $506
• Boston to Copenhagen as low as $581
• Chicago to Paris as low as $626

But in general, Berg suggests holding off a bit.

“Travelers considering an end-of-summer getaway to Europe should look beyond Labor Day weekend into September and October,” Berg said. “Prices will drop by 25% for trips in these early fall months compared to peak summer prices.”

The outlook for domestic travel

What happens in Vegas will be happening to a lot of people this coming holiday.

The top five domestic destinations, according to AAA, are Seattle, Orlando, Anchorage, New York and Las Vegas. Hopper’s top three domestic cities are Las Vegas, Atlanta and Denver. For FlightHub, it’s Vegas (again) and Orlando.

AAA also said data shows domestic cruise bookings over Labor Day weekend are up 19% compared with 2022, helping make Florida a popular and crowded destination.

A lot of people will be hitting the road, too.

“Most travelers will leave on Thursday or Friday to take advantage of the long holiday weekend,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel.

In its release, AAA provided some road forecasts from INRIX, a global provider of transportation data and insights.

INRIX said Thursday, August 31, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. should be the busiest time on the road (though that can vary by city). INRIX also said Friday, September 1, is also expected to have higher-than-normal traffic between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m.

“The best times to travel by car over Labor Day weekend are early in the morning or in the evening,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX. “If you must travel during heavy traffic, navigation apps and local departments of transportation can help steer drivers around long delays.”

AAA had some neutral-to-decent news on gas prices, which should be similar to last year.

“The national average for a gallon of regular was $3.78 on Labor Day 2022. This summer, gas prices spiked in July because of tight supply and the high cost of oil,” AAA said in its release. “August has brought some relief and, barring a major storm in the Gulf of Mexico, prices should remain steady – or even go down – heading into Labor Day weekend.”

On the rental car pricing front, Hopper said they are averaging $41 per day, down 14.5% from this time last year.

Domestic flight tips

There could still be some affordable domestic worms left for you late birds.

“While I recommend booking holiday flights several months in advance, it is not too late to find a good deal on Labor Day flights this year,” Phil Dengler, co-founder of The Vacationer, told CNN Travel.

Here are a few of his top tips:

Be flexible with travel dates: Usually, the Thursday and Friday before Labor Day and Labor Day itself are the busiest and most expensive days to fly. Dengler suggested travelers search for flights earlier in the week such as Tuesday and Wednesday. For the return after Labor Day, Dengler likes Wednesday, Thursday or Saturday.

Be flexible with your destination: If you’re not locked into a specific place, Dengler said use the Google Flights Explore feature to find cheap flights from your home airport or nearby ones. On Tuesday, he found a Philadelphia to Miami or Orlando roundtrip flight from Tuesday, August 29, through Wednesday, September 6, for only $78 roundtrip.

Book morning flights directly with the airline: “Book directly with the airline to best position yourself in the event you need to change your flight due to cancellations or significant delays. Additionally, opt for early morning flights as those tend to be cheaper and are less likely to experience interruptions,” he said.

Hopper’s Berg said you should sign up for delay and cancellation alerts.

Also, “if you haven’t booked yet, build in a buffer day,” she said. “Particularly for holiday weekends, it’s always a good idea to add in an extra day or two to your travel plans, to ensure you can arrive at your destination on time and with some wiggle room.”

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