Number of Americans’ unused vacation days continues to climb, but trend in 2018 is due to a growing allowance

5 September, 2019

US workers continue to leave vacation days on the table, but the drivers behind the increase in 2018 is largely due to a growing number of earned days off, according to recent research by the US Travel Association and its partners. Regardless, the trend is resulting in both lost benefits and economic opportunities.

A study conducted by the US Travel Association, Oxford Economics and Ipsos found that American workers left a total of 768 million vacation days “on the table” in 2018, which was a notable +9% jump year-on-year.

Of those unused days, 236 million were completely forfeited, which resulted in USD65.5 billion in lost benefits, according the study, with more than half – 55% – reporting they did not use all their allotted time off.

One drive of the increase is that US workers are earning more paid time off, the study concluded. Those numbers have been slowly rising since 2014, and during 2018 American workers earned 23.9 days of paid time off versus 23.2 in 2017.

The study highlighted a broader economic cost of workers opting not to use their vacation days. Over 80% of American workers say it is important to use their time off to travel, but they do not actually take the trip.

“If Americans used their time off to travel, the economic opportunity amounts to USD151.5 billion,” the study’s authors concluded.

The top barriers to travel were cost, difficulty getting away from work and air travel hassles.

“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 US Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow.

“However, it’s an unfortunate truth that cost is the top barrier to travel. Despite the financial challenges of travelling, there are affordable alternatives to explore America—whether it’s a drive up the coast or a day trip to a neighbouring town,” he added.

Consistent with previous reports, the study shows that vacation “planners” use more of their time and take longer and more impactful vacations than “non-planners.” Nearly half (46%) of American households do not take the time to plan their vacations and lose out on a multitude of benefits.

“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,” said Mr Dow.

The report shows:

  • Planners used 12 paid time off days to travel on average, compared to five days used by non-planners.
  • 23% of non-planners have not taken a vacation or trip in the last two years, compared to 4% of planners.
  • Planners tend to be happier in general—with everything from their personal relationships, their health and well-being, to their job.
  • While older Americans take more time off than younger age groups, millennials use a greater share of their vacation days to travel (63%).
  • Often at the height of their careers, Gen Xers are the most likely generation to travel for vacation to avoid burnout (63%) compared to Millennials or Baby Boomers (both 55%).