AAA projects 43.6 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, an increase of 0.7 percent over the 43.3 million people who traveled last year.
This increase marks the fourth consecutive year of growing holiday travelers since 2008, when Thanksgiving travel fell by 25 percent. The Thanksgiving holiday travel period is defined as Wednesday, Nov. 21 to Sunday, Nov. 25.
Highlights from this year’s 2012 AAA Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Forecast include:
• Ninety percent of travelers or 39.1 million are expected to travel by automobile, an increase of 0.6 percent.
• Holiday air travel is expected to decline to 3.14 million travelers from 3.2 million in 2011.
• Median spending is expected to drop 10 percent to $498, compared to $554 last year. Spending remains consistent with historic averages as Americans continue to prioritize travel while finding ways to economize.
• Average distance traveled is expected to decline to 588 miles from 706 miles, due in part to a decrease in the number of air travelers and Americans desire to economize budgets.
• Despite mild improvements in unemployment, the housing market and greater consumer optimism, the economy is still struggling to keep its head above water.
“Thanksgiving travel hit a decade low in 2008 when only 37.8 million Americans traveled,” said April Cochran, vice president of marketing and public affairs. “Since that year, we have seen a steady increase in the number of travelers taking to the roads and skies for the holiday. Americans continue to find ways to economize their budgets so they can gather around the holiday table to carve the turkey.
“While we do not yet know the full impact that Hurricane Sandy will have on travel from the Mid-Atlantic region, we do know that the impact for many Americans in that region is substantial,” Cochran said.
Impact of gasoline prices on travel plans
AAA estimates the national average price of gasoline will drop to between $3.25 and $3.40 a gallon by the holiday, similar to last year’s average of $3.32, which was the most expensive average ever on Thanksgiving.
Despite the historically high prices paid by motorists this year, the national average has declined by nearly 40 cents a gallon since early October and should continue to drop through the end of the year. The national average price of gas for Thanksgiving from 2007-2011 is $2.75 a gallon.
Hotel rates relatively flat, car rental rates increase 27 percent
According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, Thanksgiving holiday hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to decrease one percent from a year ago, with travelers spending an average of $143 per night compared to $145 last year. Travelers planning to stay at AAA Two Diamond hotels can expect to pay one percent more, at an average cost of $104 per night.
Weekend daily car rental rates will average $47, compared to $37 last year.