ORLANDO, Fla. -- The year-end 2018 holiday period will see a record-breaking number of travelers, according to AAA, which predicts the number of travelers to hit a record 112.5 million, the highest number since the automobile drivers’ association began tracking seasonal travel numbers.
Orlando, Fla.-based AAA partners with IHS Markit on forecasting U.S. travel volumes, with historical estimates provided by DK Shifflet. The year-end 2018 holiday season runs from Dec. 22, 2018, to Jan. 1, 2019, which is one day longer than the year-end 2017 holiday period.
The vast majority of year-end 2018 holiday travelers—or 91%—will head to their destination in a car. The number of Americans traveling by car is expected to rise 4.4% to hit 102.1 million travelers, which is up 4.3 million from the 2017 holiday period and the eighth consecutive annual increase. AAA cited a recent decline in gasoline prices for the increase in travel, with the national average retail price for regular gasoline falling to $2.37 per gallon on Dec. 17, 2018, which is the lowest average since 2016.
An increase in gasoline production by refiners and flat demand has triggered the price decline. Ohio’s retail average fell 12 cents per gallon (CPG) from the week prior, and Indiana, Idaho, Montana and Michigan saw 9-CPG decreases, according to AAA. Missouri’s retail average fell below the $2-per-gallon mark to reach $1.96 on Dec. 17.
Beyond the lower gas prices, AAA cited a strong economy and consumer sentiment for the increased travel. It pointed to a 3.1% increase in real gross domestic product expected for fourth-quarter 2018 compared to fourth-quarter 2017, and a 3.7% national unemployment rate. Consumer sentiment and confidence levels, meanwhile, are “well above” those in recent years, the association said.
The 2018 Thanksgiving holiday period was record-breaking as well, with the highest number of automobile travelers since 2005, according to AAA.