AAA: Holiday traffic expected to be heavy

Published 4:32 pm Thursday, May 24, 2012

AAA projects 34.8 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the Memorial Day holiday weekend, an increase of 1.2 percent—or 500,000 travelers—from the 34.3 million people who traveled one year ago.

“The overall domestic economic picture continues to improve slightly, however, American consumers faced a new challenge this year as steadily increasing gas prices throughout the spring significantly squeezed many household budgets,” AAA Alabama spokesperson Clay Ingram said. “Americans will still travel during the Memorial Day holiday weekend, but many will compensate for reduced travel budgets by staying closer to home and cutting entertainment dollars.”

AAA projects approximately 30.7 million people plan to drive to their destination.

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Of that number, almost nine out of 10 holiday travelers will take to the nation’s roadways during Memorial Day weekend, officially defined as Thursday, May 24 to Monday, May 28.

An AAA survey of intended travelers found that 53 percent said recent increases in gasoline prices would not impact their Memorial Day holiday travel plans. Of the remaining 47 percent of travelers, 9 percent are planning to take a shorter trip, 4 percent will travel by an alternate mode of transportation and 34 percent will economize in other areas, AAA found.

National gasoline prices, currently sitting at $3.68 per gallon, may have peaked in April despite seasonal highs in early spring when motorists experienced average price increases for all but four days in February and March, AAA officials said. The current Alabama average price is $3.40 per gallon, which is 28 cents per gallon less than this time last year.

More than 2.5 million leisure air travelers will fly during the holiday weekend, a 5.5 percent decrease from last year’s 2.7 million air travelers, AAA officials said. The remaining 4.5 percent of holiday travelers are expected to travel by other modes, including rail, bus and watercraft.

According to a survey of traveler intentions by AAA, the average distance traveled by Americans during the Memorial Day holiday weekend is expected to be 642 miles, which is 150 miles less than last year’s average travel distance of 792 miles.

The growth in Memorial Day holiday travel can be tied, in part, to a change in the income demographics of Memorial Day holiday travelers compared to last year, AAA found.

Survey results reveal the share of expected holiday travelers in the under $50K household income bracket has fallen from 31 percent to 26 percent.

The share of expected travelers in the $50K—$100K household income bracket dropped 1 percent.

Conversely, the share of travelers with household incomes over $100K increased 6 percent, from 30 percent to 36 percent. The effect of higher gas prices is more significant on lower income households as fuel costs make up a larger share of overall spending.