Despite higher gas prices, roads and airports are expected to be more crowded than last year for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.

Motorists will be paying almost 60 cents more a gallon than last year — a $12 difference for a 20-gallon tank — but that won’t change many travel plans, according to AAA Carolinas.

“Motorists will feel the spike at the pump, but higher prices won’t keep them from celebrating Memorial Day weekend with a road trip,” Tiffany Wright of the Charlotte-based group said. "A strong economy and growing consumer confidence are giving Carolinians the motivation they need to kick off what we expect to be a busy summer travel season with a Memorial Day getaway."

The average gas price in South Carolina on Tuesday was about $2.64 a gallon, compared to $2.05 a year ago. It’s still one of the cheapest prices in the nation. The national average Tuesday was $2.93.

In North Carolina, the average gas price Tuesday was $2.77 a gallon, compared to $2.20 a year ago.

AAA is predicting that 593,250 South Carolinians will travel from home this Thursday through Monday. That's the highest Memorial Day volume since 2005 and an increase of 5 percent from last year.

On the bright side, the pain at the pump will be offset by lower prices for other travel expenses

At $59, the average daily cost of a car rental is the lowest rate in the past four years and 11 percent cheaper than last year, according to AAA. Most mid-range hotels along the road are also less expensive than last year.

The news is better for those flying. Airfares are 7 percent lower than last Memorial Day, averaging $168 for a round-trip flight along the top 40 domestic routes, according to AAA.

On the other hand, increasing crowds at the Charleston International Airport means travelers need to arrive early. 

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"People always ask why they need to get here two to three hours early," Charleston County Aviation Authority CEO Paul Campbell said in a statement Tuesday. "We now have eight airlines flying nonstop to 28 airports. This is why we are no longer a sleepy small-town airport."

The federal Transportation Security Administration and airlines recommend fliers arrive at least two hours before their scheduled departure times for domestic travel and three hours for a flight with an international connection.

Passenger traffic at the Charleston airport has grown 75 percent in the last 10 years and is expected to hit 4.5 million by the end of the year. It's taking longer to find parking, check in and go through the lines.

According to the airport:

  • For five weeks in April, TSA workers at Charleston International broke departing passenger screening records.
  • The week of May 13-19 was the busiest on record. with 52,445 travelers boarding outbound flights.
  • Overflow remote parking was opened twice last week to accommodate travelers. It’s the first time those spaces were needed before the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

Reach Dave Munday at 843-937-5553.