AAA Projects Independence Day Holiday Travel Will Tie Record

Overall travel up 4.9% from last year; midweek holiday contributes to increase

ORLANDO, Fla. -- AAA projects 42.3 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Independence Day holiday weekend, a 4.9% increase over the 40.3 million people who traveled last year. The expected 2012 Independence Day holiday travel volume will tie the past decade's previous high mark set in 2007 and represents a near 42% increase from 2009.

The Independence Day holiday travel period is defined as Tuesday, July 3 to Sunday, July 8.

Since July 4 falls on a Wednesday, the calendar will play a role in driving holiday travel volume as the midweek holiday expands the traditional five-day travel period to six days and provides the option of including a weekend and two week days on either side of the actual holiday. When asked about day of departure, 54% of people intending to travel this holiday plan to begin their trip prior to the start of the work-week that includes July 4.

Response percentages by trip departure day are:

  • Friday, June 29 (25%).
  • Saturday, June 30 (16%).
  • Sunday, July 1 (13%).
  • Monday, July 2 (11%).
  • Tuesday, July 3 (19%).
  • Wednesday, July 4 (16%).

"AAA's projection for a decade high number of Independence Day travelers is being fed by Americans' appetite for travel, a midweek holiday and lower gas prices," said Bill Sutherland, vice president, AAA Travel Services. "This is the second holiday this year where travelers indicated a determination to travel while economizing by actively seeking value-added travel options and activities."

"A healthy travel industry is critical to the overall well-being of our economy and consistent increases in travel are encouraging," added Sutherland.

The price of gasoline is another factor expected to play a role in spurring intentions to travel this Independence Day holiday period. On April 6, motorists experienced a year-to-date peak average price of $3.94 per gallon for regular gasoline. The current national average price of regular gasoline is $3.50 per gallon, 44 cents lower than the April peak and 16 cents less than this time last year.

Approximately 35.5 million people plan to travel by automobile setting the high-water mark for the decade, as 84% of all Independence Day holiday travelers choose this traditionally dominant mode of transportation. This is a 4% increase over the 34.1 million people who traveled by auto last year.

Slightly more than 3.2 million leisure travelers (8% of holiday travelers) will fly during the Independence Day holiday period, a more than 9% increase over the 2.9 million air travelers in 2011. This year's increase is the third consecutive year of rising Independence Day holiday air travel volume, following the decade low 1.4 million air travelers in 2009.

The remaining 8% of holiday travelers are expected to use other modes of transportation, including rail, bus and cruise ship, accounting for 3.6 million travelers--a 10% increase over last year and the second highest volume in the past 10 years.

According to a survey of intended travelers, the average distance traveled by Americans during the Independence Day holiday weekend is expected to be 723 miles, up 150 miles from last year's average 573 miles. The increase in expected air travel is a factor in lifting the average travel distance as air trips typically span a longer distance than automobile trips. The survey found that the share of holiday trips in excess of 1,500 miles increased to 18% from last year's 10% share, while the share of trips shorter than 250 miles decreased to 28% from 35% a year ago.

Median spending down seven%, travelers continue to economize

Median spending is expected to be $749, a 7% decrease compared to the expected median spending of intended holiday travelers ($807) in 2011.

The Independence Day holiday traditionally involves spending time with family and friends, enjoying the outdoors and participating in celebrations highlighted by fireworks. This year's survey of intended travelers found that the economizing travel consumer behavior reported in AAA's Memorial Day travel forecast will continue over the Independence Day holiday period. Lower spend activities like visiting family and friends and sightseeing are expected to increase up to 4%, while shopping and entertainment will decrease by as much as 9%.

AAA's projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight, Boston.

As North America's largest motoring and leisure travel organization, Orlando, Fla.-based AAA provides more than 53 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services.

Click here to view the full AAA Independence Day 2012 Travel Forecast, including regional breakdowns.