Travelers, start your engines. This Memorial Day weekend, more Americans will be hitting the road (and the sky) in greater numbers than they have during the economic downturn, according to AAA. The motorist group forecasts that 34.9 million Americans—an increase of 100,000 travelers over last year—will travel 50 miles or more from home.
Of these, about 30.9 million are expected to be driving, a slight decrease from the 31 million who drove last year over the holiday weekend. Blame it on gas prices that on average are pushing $4 a gallon, as opposed to a national average of $2.85 a gallon last year. This is their highest level in three years. Still, cars are by far the dominant form of Memorial Day transportation. Eighty-eight percent of travelers will be behind the wheel this weekend.
According to the AAA survey based on research by Boston-based HIS Global Insight, six out of ten said gas prices will impact their travel plans. Of the remaining four out of ten travelers who said their travel plans would be impacted by fuel costs, 70 percent will economize in other areas whether traveling shorter distances or adopting other means of travel. Overall spending is forecast to fall 14 percent from last year “Some travelers will compensate for the higher fuel costs by cutting other areas of their travel budgets,” AAA President and CEO Robert L. Darbeinet said in a statement.
According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, Memorial Day holiday airfares are expected to be 14 percent higher than last year with an average lowest round-trip rate of $201 for the top 40 U.S. air routes. Hotel and car rental rates are also higher this year. But that hasn’t deterred travelers from leaving on a jet plane. About 2.9 million, an 11.5 percent increase over last year, are expected to fly during the Memorial Day weekend. This is a testament to “an improvement in the overall domestic economic picture,” Darbeinet said.
Indeed, travelers do seem to be willing to go the extra mile this year. The average distance traveled by Americans this weekend is expected to be 792 miles, which is 27 percent greater than last year’s average travel distance of 626 miles, according to AAA.