AAA projects 43.6 million Americans, including 578,500 Oklahomans, 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 nationwide last year and 1.0 percent more among Oklahomans. The Thanksgiving holiday travel period is defined by AAA as Wednesday, Nov. 21 to Sunday, Nov. 25.
Highlights from the 2012 AAA Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Forecast:
· The increase in national travel marks the fourth consecutive year of rising numbers since 2008, when Thanksgiving travel fell by 25 percent.
· Ninety percent of all travel will be done by car or pickup, an increase of 0.6 percent.
· Holiday air travel nationwide will decline to 3.14 million travelers from 3.2 million in 2011. Air travel will also fall in Oklahoma – down 1.2 percent – to 48,750 Oklahomans.
· Median spending is expected to drop 10 percent to $498, compared to $554 last year. Americans continue to prioritize travel to make dollars go further.
· Average distance traveled will decline to 588 miles from 706 miles, due to a decrease in the number of air travelers and a 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 Chuck Mai, spokesman for AAA Oklahoma. “Since that year we have seen a steady increase in the number of Thanksgiving travelers. Americans continue to find ways to stretch family budgets so they can still gather around the holiday table.”
“While we do not yet know the full impact that Hurricane Sandy will have on travel from the Mid-Atlantic region, we do know the impact for many in that region is substantial,” said Mai.
Impact of gasoline prices on travel plans
AAA estimates the national average price of gasoline will drop to between $3.25-3.40 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 was $2.75 a gallon.
Click on National Fuel Price Overview for today’s national/state/city gas prices or visit www.AAAFuelGaugeReport.com.
Wednesday before the holiday is expected to be busiest travel day
Because the Thanksgiving holiday falls on a Thursday, many are off from work the Friday after, giving travelers the opportunity to spend more time with family and friends. AAA asked intended travelers which days they would depart for and return from Thanksgiving trips.
The majority of travelers plan to leave the Wednesday before the holiday (45 percent) and return the following Sunday (36 percent) with another 25 percent expecting to return on Monday, Nov. 26.
Air travel costs decline
Those traveling by air will find lower airfares, according to AAA’s Leisure travel Index. For the Thanksgiving holiday, the average lowest round-trip rate is $188 for the top 40 U.S. air routes, an 11 percent decrease from last year. Plus, approximately 1.3 million travelers will choose other modes of transportation, including rail, bus and cruise ship.
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 this year, compared to $37 last year.
Average travel distance decreases
According to the survey of intended travelers, the average distance traveled by Americans during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is expected to be 588 miles, a decline of 16.7 percent from last year when travelers planned to log 706 miles.
Median spending down ten percent; visiting family, dining and shopping top activities
Median spending is expected to total $498, a 10 percent decrease compared to the expected median spending of $554 among intended holiday travelers in 2011.
While spending time with friends and relatives and dining are primary activities for nearly all holidays, it is even more common over Thanksgiving. Spending time with family and friends (75 percent) and dining (56 percent) are the most popular activities planned by travelers. Despite lower median spending, half of all travelers plan to shop during the holiday, taking advantage of Black Friday sales on the day after Thanksgiving
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, free to members at AAA.com/ebooks. Titles include Orlando, New York and the award-winning Las Vegas guide, as well as guides for national parks.
The free AAA Mobile app for iPhone and Android devices uses GPS navigation to help travelers map a route, find current gas prices and nearby member discounts and access AAA roadside assistance. Travelers can learn about the AAA Mobile app and AAA Mobile Web at AAA.com/mobile.
At 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 major holiday travel trends for more than two decades. The complete AAA / IHS Global Insight 2012 Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Forecast can be found at NewsRoom.AAA.com.