AAA Projects Higher Thanksgiving Travel

AAA projects 38.39 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more away from home over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, a 1.4 percent increase over last year when 37.84 million traveled nationwide.
According to AAA’s survey, the number of auto travelers is expected to total 33.2 million this year compared to the 32.5 million who traveled over Thanksgiving 2008, an increase of 2.1 percent. The number of travelers who will be flying is expected to be 2.33 million compared to 2.5 million last year, a decline of 6.8 percent. The number of those traveling by other means, including, trains, watercraft, buses and multiple-modes of transportation, is expected to reach 2.9 million, an increase of 1.2 percent, AAA said.
Fewer Oklahomans will be flying to Thanksgiving destinations this year compared to last year, AAA says, but more will be traveling the highways. The auto club’s projections show 46,500 Oklahomans will fly, a 2.1 percent dip this year, and 475,000 will be driving, an 8.1 percent jump from last year. Overall, Thanksgiving travel among Oklahomans is expected to be 7.5 percent above Thanksgiving 2008 levels.
Nationwide last year, Thanksgiving travel dropped a whopping 25.2 percent in the wake of the ongoing housing and financial crisis. AAA believes this year’s expected increase in travel reflects improved consumer confidence from one year ago, better financial market performance and a growing sense among many consumers that the worst of the global economic crisis is behind us.
“Although far too many Americans remain unemployed or under other financial stress, AAA’s projected increase in overall Thanksgiving travel from one year ago is another hopeful sign that economic conditions are stabilizing and improving in some areas,” said Chuck Mai, spokesman for AAA Oklahoma. “We can also be thankful the gradual recovery we have been seeing in some segments of the U.S. travel industry since the start of the summer is continuing.”
Across the country, 86 percent of Thanksgiving vacationers are expected to travel by automobile, AAA says, while only six percent say they will go by air. In October, the time when most people make decisions regarding Thanksgiving travel, average gasoline prices were about 54 cents less than they were in October 2008. Despite increases in gasoline prices since October this year, AAA believes most people will not change their decision to fly verses drive since airline seat availability becomes more limited and ticket fares increase as the holiday approaches.
AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report (AAAFuelGaugeReport.com) shows self-serve regular gasoline at an average price of $2.63 today nationwide, 56 cents more than one year ago. Today’s Oklahoma average stands at $2.49, up from $1.85 on Nov. 18, 2008.
This year’s decrease in the number of air travelers continues a decade-long trend nationally in which air travel as a percentage of total Thanksgiving travel has declined substantially. Since 2000, the number of Americans traveling by air during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend has dropped an astounding 62 percent. While much of this decrease can be attributed to ongoing economic difficulties, the air travel experience itself has undergone substantial changes since the 1990s with stricter airport security, more frequent flight delays, reduced capacity and added surcharges and fees all contributing to the decline.
Thanksgiving travelers will be spending approximately $718 per household over the upcoming holiday weekend. Of this amount, 32 percent will be for transportation 21 percent will go for food and shopping will account for 16 percent. Sixteen percent of spending will be for accommodations, and entertainment and recreation will account for ten percent of spending on average. Miscellaneous spending accounts for five percent.
AAA’s survey indicates Thanksgiving travelers will journey an average of 815 miles round-trip over the holiday weekend. More than one-third (37 percent) of travelers will travel 250 miles or less round-trip. Slightly less than one-quarter (24 percent) of travelers will log between 251 and 700 miles. And 38 percent will travel more than 700 miles round-trip.
According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index – a monitor of pricing in 20 popular cities across the U.S. for hotel and car rentals, as well as 40 pairs of cities for air travel pricing – the lowest average published airfares over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend are expected to be four percent lower than last year, totaling an average of $170 per round-trip ticket. Car rental rates are down two percent to an average of $44 per day for a mid-size car versus $45 per day last year. Room rates at AAA Three Diamond-rated lodgings are expected to be eleven percent less than last year with travelers spending an average of $128 per night. Travelers planning to stay at AAA Two Diamond lodgings will pay 13 percent less than last year, an average of $92 per night.
AAA’s projections are based on research conducted by IHS Global Insight that considers current economic conditions, past holiday travel trends and behavior, and the recent assessment of pre-holiday American travel intentions derived from a survey of 1,350 American households. The complete AAA / IHS Global Insight forecast can be found at AAA.com/news.



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