ORLANDO, Fla. -- AAA projects 94.5 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the year-end holiday season, an increase of 0.6% from the 94 million people who traveled last year. This upward trend marks the fifth consecutive year of increases and the highest travel volume recorded for the season.
The year-end holiday period is defined as Saturday, Dec. 21 to Wednesday, Jan. 1.
"While economic growth has stagnated and consumer confidence has fallen Americans will not be Scrooges when it comes to traveling this year," said AAA COO Marshall L. Doney. "AAA is projecting more Americans to travel than ever before to gather with friends and family, exchange presents and ring in the New Year."
Only once in the past decade has there been a change in travel volume greater than 5% and that was a decline in 2007 as the recession was just getting started.
"Of all the travel holidays, the year-end holiday season remains the least volatile as Americans will not let economic conditions dictate their travel plans to celebrate the holidays," said Doney.
The overall economic picture remains in the stagnant state that has been present throughout the year. Following the October shutdown and the agreement to temporarily suspend the debt ceiling, the mood of the consumer remains cautious. The unemployment rate has improved from one year ago, but overall employment levels remain low. Weak economic factors are reflected in all three major measures of consumer optimism which are now below year-ago levels.
While key economic factors remain similar to the Thanksgiving period, the calendar is having a positive impact on travel. When the holiday falls on a Wednesday, travelers have more flexibility with their travel plans and the option to start their trip earlier or extend through the following weekend. This calendar effect will help spur an increase in holiday travel this year.
Gasoline prices have climbed slightly from the multi-year low of $3.18 per gallon on Nov. 12, but AAA expects most drivers will pay less than a year ago to fill up during the holiday season. Fuel prices recently increased because of planned and unplanned maintenance at a number of refineries and seasonally stronger demand for gasoline. Prices should decline by the end of the year due to rising supplies and increased refinery production.
Nine in 10 holiday travelers will be driving to their destinations. Approximately 91% of travelers or 85.8 million people plan to travel by automobile during the year-end holidays. This is a 0.9% increase over the 85.1 million people who traveled by auto last year.
It expects air travel to decrease 1.4% with 5.53 million holiday travelers taking to the skies.
The survey of intended travelers shows that the average distance traveled will be 805 miles, a 45-mile increase from last year, when travelers logged 760 miles.
Between December 21 and January 1, AAA expects to come to the rescue of 3.76 million motorists with the primary reasons for breakdowns being dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts.
AAA said it expects median spending to be $765, up from $759 last year. Visiting with friends and family (74%), dining (70%) and shopping (51%) will be the most popular activities.
Orlando, Fla.-based travel organization AAA's projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight.
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