AAA predicts Thanksgiving travel increase

AAA predicts Thanksgiving travel increase

POSTED: Monday, November 21, 2011 - 2:21pm

UPDATED: Thursday, December 20, 2012 - 9:51am

AAA forecasts 42.5 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, a four percent increase from the 40.9 million people who traveled one year ago. This is the first significant increase in any holiday travel this year. The Thanksgiving holiday travel period is defined as Wednesday, Nov. 23 to Sunday, Nov. 27.

While primary economic drivers continue to show improvement from one year ago, growth levels are not high enough to support a quick return to pre-recession levels of holiday travel. Rather a slow climb back is expected from 2008 which was a decade-low year for Thanksgiving travel with only 37.8 million Americans taking a trip. With volumes still below historical averages, pent-up demand will be a contributing factor in increased holiday travel, despite current economic conditions.

Automobile travel increases four percent, remains dominant mode of transportation. Approximately 38.2 million people (90 percent of holiday travelers) plan to take to the nation’s roadways this Thanksgiving holiday weekend, a four percent increase compared to Thanksgiving 2010 when auto travelers totaled 36.8 million. Automobile travel remains the preferred choice of transportation for holiday travelers as it is often more affordable, convenient and flexible. The current statewide average price for regular unleaded gasoline is approximately $3.23 per gallon, about 50 cents more than one year ago.

Number of air travelers expected to increase despite higher airfares. Almost 3.4 million leisure travelers (eight percent of holiday travelers) will fly during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, a 1.8 percent increase from 2010. Fuel costs, combined with steady air travel demand and capacity cuts have resulted in rising airfares over the past year. According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, Thanksgiving airfares are expected to be 20 percent higher than last year with an average lowest round-trip rate of $212 for the top 40 U.S. air routes. The combination of higher fares and lower availability of seats is expected to limit air travel growth this holiday to less than half of total traveler growth.

Two percent of travelers expected to select other modes of transportation. Other modes of travel (bus, trains, watercraft, multi-modal travel) will make up the remaining two percent of the total person-trips, with just over 900,000 people expected to travel by these modes, 14.7 percent higher than in 2010. Travel via these modes has declined significantly since 2008 and remains well below historical averages, so there is stronger pent-up demand from consumers that travel using these modes. In addition, economic conditions are dictating that those who otherwise might travel by air or automobile are traveling by alternative modes of travel.

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