WASHINGTON -- Record numbers of Americans will travel this Memorial Day holiday despite the highest gasoline prices ever recorded for a holiday, according to AAA. The association estimates that 37.2 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday, a 2.2% increase from last year.
Approximately 31.1 million travelers (84% of all holiday travelers) expect to go by motor vehicle, a 2.2% increase from the 30.5 million who drove a year ago. Another 4.2 million (11% of holiday travelers) plan to travel by airplane, up 3.2% from last Memorial [image-nocss] Day. A projected 1.9 million vacationers (5%) will go by train, bus, or other mode of transportation, about even with a year ago.
Highest-ever holiday gas prices won't keep Americans from traveling, said AAA Travel Vice President Sandra Hughes. Prices might be 15 cents per gallon higher than last year's then-record levels, but gasoline remains a relatively small part of most travelers' vacation costs. Look for another crowded holiday on the highways.
Holiday auto travelers will find gasoline prices nationwide currently averaging $2.15 for a gallon of self-serve regular gasolinedown 9 cents during the last month, but about 15 cents higher than the then-record levels a year ago.
The greatest number of Memorial Day auto travelers will originate in the West with 7.4 million, followed by the Southeast, 6.7 million; Midwest, 6.6 million; Northeast, 5.8 million; and Great Lakes, 4.6 million.
Cities top the list of preferred destinations this holiday with 25% of travel volume. Small towns and rural areas took a close second with 23%, followed by ocean/beach at 15%; mountain areas, 11%; lakes, 10%; state/national parks, 5%; and theme/amusement parks, 1%. Another 8% responded with other, and 2% said they didn't know.
Air travelers will generally be paying less to fly this weekend. AAA's Leisure Travel Index shows flights over the holiday weekend averaging 10% less this year than last year. Rental car rates will be down about 4%. These savings will be offset by higher hotel rates, thoughup 10% from a year ago.
The West is expected to produce the largest number of air travelers with 1.3 million, followed by the Midwest with 1.1 million; Southeast, 800,000; Northeast, 500,000; and Great Lakes, 400,000.
Look for crowded airports, as well, as air travel continues to increase from previous years, said Hughes. Continued low airfares will result in full planes and busy airports for Memorial Day weekend and beyond.
Travelers should make lodging reservations now, as 35% of the total Memorial Day travelers expect to stay at a hotel/motel and 32% of travelers expect to stay with friends or relatives. Self-sufficient lodging will be popular, with camper/trailer/RV/tent, 14% and cabin/condo, 13%. Another 3% responded with other; no overnight stay, 1%; and didn't know, 2%.
Although Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer vacation season, many travelers began planning their more ambitious vacations several months ago. AAA's travel agents and auto counselors continue to see increased interest compared to a year ago, with many travelers having booked their trips as long ago as last fall, said Hughes. Cruises and international travel have been especially popular for this summer. Even with the dollar weak against the euro and the British pound, European cities remain top destinations for Americans headed overseas. Despite the higher costs for some trips, many travelers are still going where they want to, when they want to.