AAA forecasts 93.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the upcoming holidays, a 1.6 percent increase over the 91.8 million people who traveled one year ago.
This year’s expected travel volume is the second highest in the past decade. AAA defines the Year-End holiday travel season as Friday, December 22 to Monday, January 1, 2013. More than one in four Americans are expected to take a trip this season.
“Typically, Americans travel during the holidays regardless of economic conditions or gas prices,” said Jim Lehman, Executive Vice President, AAA East Central. “Year-end travel has steadily increased since 2008. The 11-day holiday provides travelers the opportunity to visit family and friends or squeeze in a year-end vacation.”
As for weather, forecasters say heavy snow will begin falling in the central Plains by tonight and move into the Upper Midwest overnight and during the day Thursday. The heaviest amounts will be across Iowa and into southern Wisconsin, where up to a foot of snow is possible. Strong, gusty winds accompanying the storm will bring blizzard conditions, making travel in the area hazardous.
In Huron County, Thursday's high will be near 50, but then colder weather will move in, and there is an 80 percent chance of precipitation, possibly snow, on Friday and another chance Saturday. From Friday through Christmas day, temperatures will hover between the low 30s and mid 20s.
Automobile is top transportation choice, increases 2.1 percent
Approximately 83.6 million people (91 percent of holiday travelers) plan to take to the nation’s roadways this Year-End holiday travel season, a 2.1 percent increase compared to 2010-11 when the number of auto travelers totaled 81.9 million.
Holiday air travel expected to increase 4.5 percent to 5.6 million travelers from 5.4 million in 2011.
About 3.3 million travelers will choose other modes of transportation, including rail, bus and cruise ship.
East North Central Region (which comprises Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin) highlights from year-end holiday travel forecast include:
Year-end holiday travelers to total 14.8 million, an increase of 1.3 percent from the 14.6 million who traveled in 2011
13.4 million will travel by automobile, up 1.1 percent from the 13.3 million last year
836,000 will fly to their destination, up 4.3 percent from 801,000 last year
Impact of gasoline prices on travel plans:
AAA estimates the national average price of gasoline will slowly drop through the end of the year. Currently the national average for a gallon of unleaded gasoline is $3.248. Gas prices dropped about 50 cents a gallon on average from September through early December, but remain at record highs for this time of year. AAA does not expect gas prices to have a major impact on travel volume, but consumers could have more money to spend on holiday shopping, dining and entertainment if prices drop through December as expected.
Hotel rates to increase slightly, car rental rates increase 41 percent
According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, year-end holiday hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to increase two percent from a year ago, with travelers spending an average of $129 per night compared to $126 last year. Travelers planning to stay at AAA Two Diamond hotels can expect to pay three percent more, at an average cost of $95 per night. Daily car rental rates will average $56, compared to $40 last year.
Average travel distance increases
According to the survey of intended travelers, the average distance traveled by Americans during holiday period is expected to be 760 miles, further than last year when travelers planned to log 726 miles.
Median spending up nearly six percent; top activities are dining and spending time with loved ones
Median spending is expected to be $759, a six percent increase compared to the expected median spending of intended holiday travelers ($718) last year.
Dining (67 percent) and spending time with family and friends (66 percent) and are the most popular activities planned by travelers. It is not surprising that during holiday season shopping is the third most popular activity with 57 percent expecting to shop. More than one-third (34 percent) of holiday travelers plan to sightsee during their trips.
AAA offers digital travel planning resources
AAA’s digital tools for travel planning ‘on the go’ include eTourBook guides for 101 top North American destinations, available free to members at AAA.com/ebooks. Choose from city titles, like the award-winning Las Vegas, regions, like Wine Country, and National Parks.
The free AAA Mobile app for iPhone, Android and iPad uses GPS navigation to help travelers map a route, find current gas prices and discounts and access AAA roadside assistance. Travelers can learn about the AAA Mobile app and AAA Mobile Web at AAA.com/mobile.
On AAA.com, travelers can find thousands of AAA Approved and Diamond Rated hotels and restaurants using AAA’s TripTik Travel Planner or the searchable Travel Guides at AAA.com/Travel. Every AAA Approved establishment offers the assurance of acceptable cleanliness, comfort and hospitality, and ratings of One to Five Diamonds help travelers find the right match for amenities and services.
AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight. The Colorado-based business information provider teamed with AAA in 2009 to jointly analyze travel trends during the major holidays. AAA has been reporting on holiday travel trends for more than two decades.
AAA East Central is a not-for-profit organization with 82 local offices in Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and New York, servicing 2.7 million members.