Americans Let a Record Number of Vacation Days Go Unused in 2018

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A record 768 million vacation days went unused across the U.S. last year, with more than half of Americans failing to use all of their allotted time off, according to new research from the U.S. Travel Association, Oxford Economics and Ipsos.

Even more disconcerting, the 768 million figure signals a 9 percent rise from 2017 and amounts to an economic opportunity loss of $151.5 billion and as many as two million American jobs.

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However, the study found that Americans are taking more days of paid time off than in years past, with workers taking an average of 17.4 days in 2018 compared to 17.2 days in 2017. According to the U.S. Travel Association, the number of unused days spiked last year because the number of earned days is increasing at a faster rate than paid time off days used.

More than 80 percent of working Americans believe it’s important to use their time off to travel but cite cost, the challenge of unplugging from work and air travel headaches as the top reasons why they don’t.

“When I see how many vacation days went unused, I don’t just see a number—I see 768 million missed opportunities to recharge, experience something new and connect with family and friends,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow in a statement accompanying the study. “However, it’s an unfortunate truth that cost is the top barrier to travel. Despite the financial challenges of traveling, there are affordable alternatives to explore America—whether it’s a drive up the coast or a day trip to a neighboring town.”

Unsurprisingly, the study also shows that planners wind up using more of their time and take longer and more impactful vacations compared to those who don’t plan ahead. Non-planners account for 46 percent of American households.

According to the research, planners used 12 paid time off days to travel on average, compared to only five days used by non-planners and 23 percent of non-planners haven’t taken a vacation or a trip in the last two years compared to only 4 percent of planners.

Gen Xers are the most likely generation to travel for vacation to avoid burnout at work, with 63 percent taking off compared to only 55 percent of millennials and baby boomers.

“Year after year, the evidence shows that Americans who plan for their vacations at the start of the year take more time off to travel and are healthier in many aspects of life,” Dow added.

Americans seeking to capitalize on their vacation days in the new year should participate in National Plan for Vacation Day on January 28, 2020, talk to a trusted travel agent and take advantage of the U.S. Travel Association’s free Vacation Planning Tool.