Despite Gas Prices, AAA Projects Record-High Memorial Day Travel

BURNSVILLE, Minn., May 23 /PRNewswire/ — Record numbers of Americans will travel this Memorial Day holiday despite the highest gas prices ever recorded for a holiday. AAA estimates that 37.2 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday, a 2.2 percent increase from last year.

Approximately 31.1 million travelers (84 percent of all holiday travelers) expect to go by motor vehicle, a 2.2 percent increase from the 30.5 million who drove a year ago. Another 4.2 million (11 percent) plan to travel by airplane, up 3.2 percent from last Memorial Day. A projected 1.9 million vacationers (5 percent) will go by train, bus or other mode of transportation, about even with a year ago.

Holiday auto travelers will find national gas prices currently averaging $2.12 for a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline, down 10 cents during the last month, but about 9 cents higher than a year ago. Before being broken several times this year, the previous national average record high price was $2.05 recorded on May 26, 2004, coinciding with last year’s Memorial Day weekend.

Air travelers generally will be paying less to fly this weekend. AAA’s Leisure Travel Index shows flights over the holiday weekend averaging 10 percent less this year than last year. Rental car rates will be down about 4 percent. These savings will be offset by higher hotel rates, though, which are up 10 percent from a year ago.

“Pump prices may be higher than last year, but gasoline remains a relatively small part of most auto travelers’ vacation costs,” said Karen Lefler, director of Travel Services, AAA Minnesota /Iowa. “Those who are flying will benefit from lower airfares, but will also encounter fuller planes and busier airports. However you travel, it will be busy.”

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 in travel compared to a year ago, with many travelers having booked their trips as long ago as last fall,” added Lefler. “Cruises and international travel have been especially popular. Even with the dollar weak against both the euro and British pound, European cities remain top destinations for Americans headed overseas.”

The greatest number of Memorial Day auto travelers will originate in the West with 7.4 million vacationers, followed by the Southeast, 6.7 million; Midwest, 6.6 million; Northeast, 5.8 million; and Great Lakes, 4.6 million.

The West is expected to produce the largest number of air travelers with 1.3 million passengers, followed by the Midwest with 1.1 million; Southeast, 800,000; Northeast, 500,000; and Great Lakes, 400,000.

Cities top the list of preferred destinations this holiday with 25 percent of travel volume. Small towns and rural areas took a close second with 23 percent, followed by ocean/beach at 15 percent; mountain areas, 11 percent; and lakes, 10 percent. State/national parks, 5 percent, and theme/amusement parks, 1 percent rounded out the list. Another 8 percent responded with other, and 2 percent said they didn’t know.

Travelers should make lodging reservations now, as 35 percent of the total Memorial Day travelers expect to stay at a hotel/motel and 32 percent of travelers expect to stay with friends or relatives. Self-sufficient lodging will be popular, with camper/trailer/RV/tent, 14 percent; and cabin/condo, 13 percent. Another 3 percent responded with other; no overnight stay, 1 percent; and didn’t know, 2 percent.

Research for Memorial Day travel is based on a national telephone survey of 1,300 adults by the Travel Industry Association of America.

AAA offers automotive, travel, insurance and financial services to more than 45 million members in the United States and Canada. AAA Minnesota/Iowa is part of The Auto Club Group, with 4.1 million members in eight Midwest states.

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