The Travel Habits of Affluent Americans

As we head into the heart of summer 2011, the thoughts of many Americans turn to travel. And in turn, the thoughts of many in the travel business, including marketers and advertisers, turn to Affluent Americans in particular. It is easy to see why. According to government surveys, the 20% of Americans we'll define as Affluent -- those with at least $100,000 in annual household income -- account for approximately 60% of the income generated in the U.S., 70% of the net worth, and a tremendous amount of U.S. travel spending as well.

The 24 million Affluent households in America average more than $4,100 annually on vacation and personal travel spending, putting travel solidly in the top tier of Affluent spending interests, trailing only vehicles, insurance, groceries, home, and apparel. They spend twice as much on personal travel as they do on electronics or personal wellness; they spend almost four times as much on personal travel as they do on gardening, alcohol or jewelry.

The Affluent spend so much on travel, in part, because they can. They have the discretionary income to spend on what is, in many ways, one of the most discretionary of categories - it is certainly more discretionary than all the categories that top it on the Affluent spending list. But the Affluent also spend so much on travel because they have a deep and abiding passion for travel and all that it brings: the unique combination of excitement and relaxation, the opportunity to explore and experience, the opportunity to reconnect with old friends or make new ones. Much of their passion for travel is tied up with another major passion -- family -- and 81% specifically indicate that they like travelling with their family.



Many travel with family, but then again, many travel alone, a pattern of diverse interests that emerges on just about any measure related to Affluent travel. Some travel to the mountains to ski. Some visit the beach to swim. About half prefer to travel abroad; the other half prefer to travel domestically. One-third tell us they prefer to vacation in places "off the beaten track." Others prefer to vacation by shopping in urban consumption Meccas. Nearly two-thirds tell us they like to take weekend trips; conversely, one-third does not. Given the tremendous size and spending power of the Affluent, any of these "niches" constitutes a multibillion-dollar industry.

Amid the many niches of Affluent travel, some general patterns and preferences do emerge, and it becomes possible to paint an overall portrait of travel among the financial elite. Eighty-two percent took a domestic vacation or personal trip in the past year, visiting an average of 3-4 destinations, with the most popular destinations reflecting a combination of adult sophistication and family-friendly activities: Las Vegas (16%), Orlando (12%), New York City (12%), Los Angeles (10%) and San Francisco (9%). Fully half traveled outside the U.S. in the past 3 years, with the top destinations being the Caribbean (18%), Mexico (15%) and Canada (11%).

When we ask about their most recent trip, a more detailed portrait emerges. The "prototypical" vacation among the Affluent is a domestic trip for 2-4 people that lasts about a week. It involves a self-booked commercial flight and a stay at a four-star hotel (only about one-in-five trips are booked through a professional travel agent). They average four to five activities in a typical vacation, with most activities being relatively sedate and subdued: shopping (55%), going for a walk (48%), sightseeing (47%), visiting friends/relatives (34%), and going to the beach (28%).

Looking ahead, expect the Affluent to continue their love affair with travel. Two-thirds expect to take a domestic trip in the next year (and of course, many additional trips are relatively unplanned and spur-of-the-moment). One-third expects to take a trip or cruise outside the U.S. And expect their love affair with travel-related media to continue as well. Twenty-two percent of Affluents watched a travel-related program or show in the past week. Over half (53%) visited a travel website in the past thirty days. And travel magazines are read by 60%, topping each of the other 24 genres of magazines that we measure. Clearly travel, and the media that explores and embodies travel, will continue to have a powerful hold on the imagination and aspirations of Affluent Americans.

Data in this article are taken from the 2010 Mendelsohn Affluent Survey, with a sample size of 13,804, or from our Mendelsohn Affluent Barometer, a survey of more than 1,000 Affluent interviews each month.

2 comments about "The Travel Habits of Affluent Americans ".
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  1. Arlene Winnick from Winnick PR +, June 15, 2011 at 5:06 p.m.

    As the article points out so clearly - travel for this affluent group is often about reconnecting -- with family, friends and colleagues. Clear evidence of this trend is the growth of villa rentals which provide a more relaxed social setting for a vacation instead of the formal setting and restrictions of a hotel. At we specialize in this group and have seen our business grow substantially over the past years as we provide the properties, the amenities and the services they want and will pay for.

  2. Kimberly Conon from Luminosity Marketing, June 15, 2011 at 5:18 p.m.

    It's also interesting to see how upscale travel brands engage the affluent through social media channels. We recently analyzed Jetsetter's multi-platform social strategy. They succeed because they recognize that affluence does not preclude appreciation for value. You can read more about affluent travelers + social media here:

    Kimberly Conon,
    Luminosity Marketing

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