AAA projects 94.5 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the year-end holiday season, an increase of 0.6 percent from the 94 million people who traveled last year. This upward trend marks the fifth consecutive year of increases and the highest travel volume recorded for the season. The year-end holiday period is defined as Saturday, December 21 to Wednesday, January 1.
Highlights from this year’s 2013/2014 AAA Year-End Holidays Travel Forecast include:
- Holiday travel to total 94.5 million, an increase of 0.6 percent from the 94 million who traveled last year.
- Year-end holiday travel is expected to increase for the fifth consecutive year, reaching a new high since data has been collected by AAA.
- Ninety-one percent of travelers or 85.8 million to travel by automobile, an increase of 0.9 percent.
- Nearly 30 percent (29.7) of all Americans will take a trip this holiday, with more than one in four (27 percent) taking a road trip.
- Holiday air travel is expected to decline slightly to 5.53 million travelers from 5.61 last year.
- Median spending expected to increase slightly to $765, compared to $759 last year.
Only once in the past decade has there been a change in travel volume greater than five percent and that was a decline in 2007 as the recession was just getting started.
The overall economic picture remains in the stagnant state that has been present throughout the year. Following the October shutdown and the agreement to temporarily suspend the debt ceiling, the mood of the consumer remains cautious. The unemployment rate has improved from one year ago, but overall employment levels remain low. Weak economic factors are reflected in all three major measures of consumer optimism which are now below year ago levels.
While key economic factors remain similar to the Thanksgiving period, the calendar is having a positive impact on travel. When the holiday falls on a Wednesday travelers have more flexibility with their travel plans and the option to start their trip earlier or extend through the following weekend. This calendar effect will help spur an increase in holiday travel this year.
Impact of gasoline prices on travel plans
Gas prices have climbed slightly from the multi-year low of $3.18 per gallon on November 12, but AAA expects most drivers will pay less than a year ago to fill up during the holiday season. Gas prices recently increased because of planned and unplanned maintenance at a number of refineries and seasonally stronger demand for gasoline. Prices should decline by the end of the year due to rising supplies and increased refinery production.
Automobile travel remains dominant mode of transportation, air travel decreases
Approximately 91 percent of travelers or 85.8 million people plan to travel by automobile during the year-end holidays. This is a 0.9 percent increase over the 85.1 million people who traveled by auto last year. Air travel is expected to decrease 1.4 percent as 5.53 million holiday travelers will take to the skies.
Those traveling by air will find airfares slightly lower than last year according to AAA’s Leisure travel Index. During Christmas week the average lowest round-trip rate is $199 for the top 40 U.S. air routes compared to $204 last year. Approximately 3.13 million travelers will choose other modes of transportation, including rail, bus and cruise ship.
Hotel rates relatively flat, car rental rates increase 13 percent
According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to average $138 per night compared to $142 last year. Travelers planning to stay at AAA Two Diamond hotels can expect to pay an average cost of $102 per night, compared to $101 in 2012. Weekend daily car rental rates will average $63, compared to $55 last year.
Average travel distance increases
According to the survey of intended travelers, the average distance traveled is expected to be 805 miles, which is an increase of 45 miles from last year when travelers logged 760 miles.
Median spending increases slightly; visiting family, dining and shopping top activities
Median spending is expected to be $765 up from $759 last year. Visiting with friends and family (74 percent), Dining (70 percent) and shopping (51 percent) will be the most popular activities.