AAA Travel projects 34.1 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Labor Day holiday, a 4.2 percent increase from the 32.7 million people who traveled last year.
TAMPA – AAA Travel projects 34.1 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Labor Day holiday, a 4.2 percent increase from the 32.7 million people who traveled last year.
The anticipated increase in holiday travel is predominantly due to increased consumer spending and the improving housing market. The total number of holiday travelers is expected to reach a new post-recession high.
The Labor Day holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, Aug. 29, to Monday, Sept. 2.
“Although this summer’s holiday travel numbers were pretty lackluster compared to last year, Labor Day travel is forecast to end the summer with a bang,” said Jessica Brady, spokeswoman, AAA Travel, The Auto Club Group. “More people are forecast to travel this Labor Day weekend since the post-recession high of 45 million in 2008.”
Automobile travel remains dominant
Approximately 29 million people (85 percent) plan to drive to their destination, an increase of 4.3 percent from the 28 million who drove last year.
Gas prices are unlikely to deter travelers this holiday, after falling below year-ago levels. The average price for gas on Labor Day 2012 was $3.83 per gallon, the most expensive average ever on record for the holiday. The current national average price for a gallon of regular gas is $3.55, 21 cents lower than last year.
Gas prices have steadily dropped since mid-July, with motorists in the Southeast paying some of the lowest prices in the nation.
"At this point, it looks like motorists will enjoy relatively low gas prices during the Labor Day weekend," Brady said. "Last year during this time, Tropical Storm Isaac drove gas prices close to $4 a gallon after Gulf refineries were forced to shut down."
AAA forecasts gas prices will remain less expensive than last year based on current trends, but there remains the potential for late-summer hurricanes and increased violence in Egypt that could send prices higher.
Aug. 30 busiest travel day
The largest share of travelers (46 percent) will depart on Aug. 30 and the largest share will return on Monday (43 percent). Eighty-five percent intend to return from their Labor Day trip on Monday, Tuesday, or later.
Air travel to increase slightly
More than 2.6 million leisure travelers (8 percent) will arrive at their destination by air, a slight increase of 2.8 percent from last year’s 2.5 million air travelers. The remaining 7 percent of holiday travelers are expected to travel by other modes, including rail, bus and watercraft.
Average travel distance decreases, spending up slightly
The average distance traveled by Americans during the holiday weekend is expected to be 594 miles, which is 32 miles less than last year’s average of 626 miles.
Median spending during the Labor Day weekend is expected to grow to $804, compared to $749 last year. Travelers expect to spend 24 percent of their budget on transportation and lodging and 21 percent on food and beverages.
During the holiday weekend the most popular activities will be dining (57 percent), visiting with friends/family (46 percent) and shopping (43 percent).
Car rentals, airfares rise, hotel rates mixed
According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, weekend daily car rental rates will average $51, 32 percent more than last year’s average of $39. Airfares increased 4 percent year-over-year, with an average lowest round-trip rate of $214 for the top 40 U.S. air routes compared to $205 last year.
Hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to increase 4 percent from one year ago with travelers spending an average $161 per night compared to $154 last year. The average hotel rate for AAA Two Diamond hotels are expected to drop 2 percent with an average cost of $115 per night.
AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight.