NEW YORK -- This Thanksgiving, 42.5 million people in the United States are expected to hit the road to visit family and friends -- the highest number of holiday travelers since the start of the recession.
Travel tracker AAA estimates that 4 percent more Americans than last year will journey at least 50 miles from home, with about 90 percent of them driving. Another 8 percent plan to fly, but AAA notes that higher airfares and fewer available seats have forced many would-be fliers to drive instead. The remaining travelers plan to take buses, trains or other forms of transportation.
This is the third consecutive Thanksgiving in which Americans have taken to the road in higher numbers than in the previous year.
The increase in holiday travel is welcome news for an industry that has been struggling to get Americans back on the road. Memorial Day saw no increase in vacations, and travel was down for both the July 4 and Labor Day breaks. AAA said Americans are willing to spend now because they want to spend time with their family.
"As consumers weigh the fear of economic uncertainty and the desire to create lasting family memories this holiday, more Americans are expected to choose family and friends over frugality," Bill Sutherland, vice president of AAA Travel Services, said in a statement.
Those driving should expect to pay more at the pump. The average price of a gallon of gas so far this November is $3.42, up nearly 20 percent from last year's $2.86, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. That means for every 100 miles a family drives this holiday, they should expect to spend about $2.50 more on gas.
Rates for mid-range hotels are expected to rise 6 percent from last year, with travelers spending an average of $145 a night. Lower-priced motels are seeing a 7 percent increase to $103.
Weekend daily car rental rates will average $37, an 11 percent drop from last year.
AAA said Thanksgiving airfares are 20 percent higher than last year, with an average lowest round-trip rate of $212 for the top 40 U.S. air routes. That estimate is higher than a 4 percent rise predicted by both Orbitz and Priceline. Those companies said the average airfare was closer to $400. Airlines report quarterly airfares but don't break out prices for specific holidays.
The findings are based on a survey of 1,357 people in the U.S., 543 who said they plan to travel.