NEW YORK — This Christmas travel season could be the busiest in six years, with AAA predicting that 93.3 million Americans will hit the road. That’s 1.6 percent more than last year and just 400,000 people shy of the 2006 record.
By the numbers
Some highlights from the AAA national holiday travel forecast:90% of travelers, or 84.4 million, expected to travel by automobile, representing 26.7% of the U.S. population.Air travelers expected to increase 4.5% to 5.6 million compared to 2011.Median spending expected to increase almost 6% to $759, with transportation consuming about 29 cents of those dollars.Average travel distance: 760 miles round-trip, up from 726 miles in 2011, largely because of the increase in air travelCAROLINAS UPDATE: The AAA office in Charlotte that monitors travel in South Carolina and North Carolina will release its holiday projections Tuesday.AAA Carolinas spokeswoman Angela Vogel Daley said Thursday that it was too soon to offer any regional predictions, but she noted that lower fuel prices could prompt more travel. “Gas prices have gone down considerably over the last few months, and that will play a positive role for holiday travel,” she said.AAA; The Post and Courier
More cars will crowd the highways than ever before, largely because finding a seat on a plane at a desirable price has gotten more difficult. AAA said a record 84.4 million people will drive at least 50 miles between Dec. 22 and Jan. 1. That’s 90.5 percent of holiday travelers, up from 89.3 percent six years ago.
Put another way: one in four Americans will be driving long distances for Christmas and New Year’s. So expect plenty of traffic jams, crowded highway rest stops and overflowing toll plazas in places that charge tolls.
The price of gas could be close to the average of $3.23 a gallon that drivers paid last Christmas Day. The price has dropped about 50 cents since September. AAA estimates the average price will range between $3.20 and $3.40 a gallon by New Year’s Day, according to AAA. That’s pricey, but hardly a deterrent to holiday travel.
“The year-end holiday season remains the least volatile of all travel holidays as Americans will not let economic conditions or high gas prices dictate if they go home for the holidays or kick off the New Year with a vacation,” said AAA president and CEO Robert Darbelnet.
The travel forecast done by IHS Global Insight for AAA, one of the nation’s largest leisure travel agencies, is based on interviews with 655 Americans and factors in estimates about the overall health of the economy.
While about 1 million more people will drive, fewer will travel by plane. Airlines for America, the industry’s trade group, estimates about 15 million people will fly between Dec. 17 and Jan. 6. The group said there will be 42 million segments — a takeoff and landing — flown by passengers. That’s about 300,000, or 1 percent, fewer segments than last year.