Thanksgiving Travel to Decline Slightly This Year

But cheapest gas prices for the holiday since 2010, says AAA

Thanksgiving gas prices AAA

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ORLANDO, Fla. -- AAA projects 43.4 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, a decrease of 1.5% from the 44 million people who traveled last year. This decrease falls just shy of last Thanksgiving's four-year peak since the recession-driven declines in 2008-2009 when Thanksgiving travel fell by 25%, the organization said in its 2013 Thanksgiving Travel Forecast.

The Thanksgiving holiday travel period is defined as Wednesday, Nov. 27 to Sunday, Dec. 1.

"While the economy continues to improve, the sluggish pace of the recovery is creating uncertainty in the minds of some consumers and, therefore, AAA is projecting a slight decline in the number of Thanksgiving travelers this year," said AAA COO Marshall L. Doney. "For those traveling the good news is motorists will receive a holiday bonus in the form of lower gas prices which are at their lowest levels for the holiday since 2010."

He continued, "The primary focus of Thanksgiving, more so than any other holiday, is to gather with friends, family and loved ones and celebrate with each other. Travelers attempting to carve out a travel budget will be happy to know that Thanksgiving will be the least expensive holiday of the year."

AAA estimates that most drivers will pay the cheapest gasoline prices for the Thanksgiving holiday since 2010. The national average is at the cheapest level of the year and should continue to drop in the weeks ahead. Drivers can find stations selling gasoline for less than $3 per gallon in most states. The decreased cost of gasoline will provide consumers with real savings that could be used for other purposes on the trip.

Wednesday before the holiday will be busiest travel day.

The Thanksgiving holiday is unique falling on a Thursday every year. Many people are off from work the Friday after; giving travelers more time to spend with family and friends. AAA asked intended travelers which days they would depart for and return from Thanksgiving travel. Among those surveyed, the highest volumes of travelers plan to leave for their trip the Wednesday before the holiday (37%) and return the following Sunday (33%) with another 24% expecting to return on Monday, Dec. 2, or later.

Approximately 90% of travelers or 38.9 million people plan to travel by automobile this Thanksgiving. This is a 1.6% decrease over the 39.5 million people who traveled by auto last year. Air travel is expected to decrease 3.7% as 3.14 million holiday travelers will take to the skies.

According to the survey of intended travelers, the average distance traveled by Americans during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is expected to be 601 miles, which is an increase of 2.2% from last year when travelers planned to log 588 miles.

Median spending is expected to be $465, a 6.6% decrease compared to the expected median spending of intended holiday travelers ($498) in 2012.

While spending time with friends and relatives and dining are primary activities for nearly all holidays, it is even more relevant for Thanksgiving travelers. Therefore it is not surprising that spending time with family and friends (67%) and dining (56%) are the most popular activities planned by travelers. Despite lower median spending, nearly half of all travelers (44%) plan to shop during the holiday which can be expected given Black Friday occurs during the holiday weekend.