AAA sees slight pick-up in Memorial Day travel
The auto club expects 34.9 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more over the long holiday weekend. That's slightly more than a year ago but less than the 35.3 million who traveled over Memorial Day 2007 before the recession.
Gas prices are having a big impact on travel decisions. About 88 percent will travel by car, a slight decline from a year ago. Americans will watch their budgets carefully — the median expenditure is forecast at $692, down 14.5 percent from 2010, AAA said. About 31 percent of the money will be devoted to fuel and transportation costs.
Most families have grown accustomed to budget-conscious trips since the recession. The economy is stronger but unemployment remains high and families have paid more this spring for food and energy, which is cutting into household budgets.
The forecast holds good news for airlines. AAA says more than 2.9 million travelers will fly, the most since 2005. That's an 11.5 percent increase from last year, even though the average fare is up 14 percent.
The uncertainty about where gas prices and airfares may be headed is prompting families to be more careful, IHS Global Insight senior consultant Shane Norton said. Some may take shorter trips, stay at cheaper motels and eat at lower-cost restaurants.
As Memorial Day weekend approaches, pump prices are at the highest level they have been in three years, driven by a 35 percent increase in oil prices from mid-February through late April. The good is gas prices have started dropping.
The average retail price nationally was $3.905 a gallon Thursday, nearly 8 cents less than a week ago. Still, gas is $4 a gallon or more in many states. A year ago, it was $2.85 a gallon.
Many analysts think the price may have peaked for the year, barring a hurricane that affects oil production or a global event that could disrupt oil supplies. They have predicted prices will range between $3.25 a gallon to $3.75 a gallon by mid-June.
Meanwhile, airlines have increased fares at least six times this year to cover higher fuel costs. The average round-trip domestic fare last summer was $340, according to government figures. It could be $375 or more this summer if fares rise again as much as they did last summer.