Times Square, New York
Jason Dean | Moment | Getty Images
From the Big Apple to the Bay Area, cities and towns across the country are expecting celebratory crowds come Friday as a pandemic-weary population looks to bid 2021 good riddance.
Amid the latest, delta and omicron waves of Covid-19 infections, you might think more people than usual would be ringing in the new year at home, yet financial website WalletHub claims that’s not the case.
“Surprisingly, no,” said WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez. “The percentage of people spending New Year’s Eve at home is actually the same as in 2019.” Sixty-percent of Americans plan to welcome 2022 with family or friends, compared to 24% attending public events or parties, according to the site’s Best Cities for New Year’s Eve report — same as two years ago, before the pandemic struck the U.S.
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There were widely reported holiday travel snarls over the Christmas weekend, as worker-strapped airlines canceled thousands of flights due to more employees calling in sick with Covid, but prior to the omicron wave, bookings for end-of-year holiday travel were up massively from last year, and even stronger than 2019.
TripIt from Concur found that bookings for domestic flights were up 304% over 2020, and 53% compared to 2019. Car rentals were up 404% and 76%, respectively, over 2020 and 2019; lodging reservations rose 271% and 61%; and vacation rentals, 182% and 56%.
Still, many of those plans were tentative, said Jen Moyse, TripIt’s senior director of product, in a statement. “Some travelers may be feeling concerned as Covid-19 cases rise and news of omicron spread,” she said. “We heard in a recent survey that more than a quarter (26 percent) of travelers have made plans they are prepared to cancel or change.”
Most of us, at 65%, are forking over at least $50 to greet 2022, WalletHub found. The site didn’t have data for last year but found that in 2019, 83% of Americans were spending less than $200. “While the stats are not exactly apples to apples, we can estimate that there is a drop in budget compared to 2019,” said Gonzalez.
Whether you’re plowing ahead with plans to travel for New Year’s Eve or are lucky enough to live in or near a place with lots of celebratory options, WalletHub has some recommendations. It ranked the 100 biggest U.S. cities for several factors, including safety, accessibility, costs, and entertainment and food options. It then averaged them out to award an overall score to each location.
The usual big-city tourism suspects — such as New York, Las Vegas and Orlando, Florida — topped the WalletHub list. There were some surprises, however, such as Louisville, Kentucky, coming in at No. 9, beating out places like Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Chicago for a top 10 spot.
“Louisville is a popular New Year’s Eve destination because it allows fireworks and it has restaurants that rank high among the top 100 places to eat in the country,” Gonzalez explained. “The city also has the seventh-largest number of beer, wine and spirits shops per capita, and you can find affordable fine dining here.”
Bringing up the rear this year for New Year’s cheer were WalletHub’s bottom 10 cities: Garland, Texas, with a score of 41.03 out of 100; Aurora, Colorado, at 40.95; Chesapeake, Virginia, 40.94; Hialeah, Florida, 40.85; Cleveland, 40.63; Glendale, Arizona, 40.08; Newark, New Jersey, 39.23; Anchorage, Alaska, 38.93; Fremont, California, 38.07; and — next door to No. 2 place Sin City — North Las Vegas, Nevada, at 31.56.
(WalletHub compared the 100 most populated U.S. cities across three dimensions — entertainment and food, costs, and safety and accessibility — using 28 relevant metrics. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with 100 representing most-favorable New Year’s Eve party conditions. WalletHub then determined each city’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate an overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order the sample.)