Memorial Day Travel, Gas-Price Thaw (Infographic)

AAA expects second-highest volume of travelers since 2000

AAA Memorial Day 2014 (CSP Daily News / Convenience Stores)

ORLANDO, Fla. -- AAA Travel projects 36.1 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the 2014 Memorial Day holiday weekend, a 1.5% increase from the 35.5 million people who traveled last year.

The 2014 forecast is 2.6% higher than the 10-year historical average and the second-highest travel volume since 2000.

Kicking off the summer driving season, more than eight in 10 travelers will be driving to their destinations. AAAA said that 88% of travelers (31.8 million) will travel by automobile, an increase from 31.4 million last year

AAA expects that most drivers will pay lower gasoline prices by Memorial Day weekend due to rising supplies. It expects holiday gas prices to be relatively similar or even slightly less than last year's national Memorial Day average of $3.63 per gallon, though unexpected developments such as refinery problems or international events could result in higher costs. With many plans already made and budgets set, it is unlikely that gas prices will have a significant effect on travel plans compared to a year ago.

Holiday air travel expected to increase from 2.4% to 2.6 million leisure travelers. Travel by other modes of transportation including cruise, trains and buses will see the largest increase, up 6.5% (total 1.7 million travelers). Travelers will encounter slightly higher prices with airfares 6% higher, mid-range hotels up 2% and car rentals costing 1% more.

"As we enter into the summer travel season with warmer temperatures … thoughts of historic cold are still fresh in the minds of Americans in many parts of the country," said Marshall L. Doney, AAA COO. "The winter blues appear to have given Americans the travel bug … as travel for the holiday is expected to hit a new post-recession high."

In addition to seasonal rising temperatures, improvements in several key economic factors are driving the expectation for more holiday travelers this year. "As the economy continues to improve at a slow and steady pace consumer spending, disposable income, consumer confidence and the employment outlook are trending up which is welcomed news for the travel industry," he said.

The winter hindered economic growth at the beginning of the year, but economic factors influenced by weather, such as car and home sales, appear to be resolving themselves now. Indicative of the unusually harsh winter, AAA experienced an increase of nearly 12% in battery-related calls this winter.

The Memorial Day holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, May 22 to Monday, May 26.

AAA's projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight. The Colorado-based business information provider teamed with AAA in 2009 to jointly analyze travel trends during the major holidays. AAA has been reporting on holiday travel trends for more than two decades.

Click here to view the complete AAA/IHS Global Insight 2014 Memorial Day Travel Forecast.