AAA projects Memorial Day travel to decline slightly as Americans drive more, fly less

Online Staff Report

AAA Travel projects 34.8 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Memorial Day holiday weekend, a 0.9 percent decrease from the 35.1 million people who traveled last year. The Memorial Day holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, May 23, to Monday, May 27.

In Wisconsin, nearly 685,000 people are expected to travel for Memorial Day weekend, a 1.6 percent decrease compared to last year, according to the AAA forecast. Of those, nearly 627,000 people plan to travel by auto while about 33,000 will travel by air. The remaining 25,000 travelers will go by rail, bus or ship.

AAA is forecasting Memorial Day travel to experience a slight dip as economic improvements from last year are not strong enough to spur an increase in travelers,” said AAA President and CEO Robert L. Darbelnet. “Economic growth in the first quarter was strong, but the impact of the sequester is now beginning to be felt, reducing economic growth expectations.”

Highlights from AAA’s 2013 Memorial Day Travel Forecast include the following:

• Memorial Day holiday travelers to total 34.8 million, a decrease of 0.9 percent from the 35.1 million who traveled last year;

• Eighty-nine percent of travelers (31.2 million) to travel by automobile, an increase from 31.1 million last year;

• Holiday air travel expected to decrease 8 percent to 2.3 million from 2.5 million in 2012;

• Median spending is expected to decrease more than 6 percent to $659, compared to $702 in 2012 with transportation costs consuming about 28 cents of every travel dollar;

• Travelers intend to journey an average of 690 miles, which is higher than last year’s average of 642 miles; and

• Memorial Day holiday travel volume is expected to remain above the 12-year historical average of 34.7 million.

Automobile travel only mode of transportation to expect increase

Approximately 31.2 million people plan to drive to their destination, an increase of 0.25 percent from the 31.1 million who drove last year. Almost nine out of 10 holiday travelers (89 percent) will take to the nation’s roadways during the Memorial Day weekend, keeping automobile travel in the traditional lead as the dominant mode of holiday travel transportation.

Impact of gasoline prices on travel plans

Nationally, gas prices are averaging $3.65 per gallon — 3 cents less than last year. However, the gas price picture is different in Wisconsin, where prices average $3.93 — 33 cents more than a month ago and 21 cents higher than last year.

The main reason Wisconsin prices are higher is that extensive refinery maintenance ongoing in the upper Midwest is tightening available gasoline supplies. With several refineries down for maintenance, gasoline supplies are diminished, and prices inevitably remain higher. It is not known exactly when these refineries will be finished with maintenance and resume normal production. The hope is these refineries will begin resuming operations in early June, which should help Midwest gasoline supplies and prices. Unfortunately, the reality is that motorists in the Midwest are in a wait-and-see mode until the extensive maintenance in the region comes to an end.

AAA’s survey of intended travelers that was conducted the week of April 8 found that gasoline prices would have no impact on plans for 62 percent of travelers. Of the remaining 38 percent of travelers who said gas prices would impact their travel plans, 27 percent plan to economize in other areas. Eight percent are planning to take a shorter trip and 3 percent will travel by an alternate mode of transportation.

Air travelers to decline by 8 percent

More than 2.3 million travelers (more than 7 percent of holiday travelers) will arrive at their destination by air, an 8 percent decrease from last year’s 2.5 million air travelers. The remaining 4 percent of holiday travelers are expected to travel by other modes, including rail, bus and watercraft.

Average travel distance increases

According to the AAA survey, the average distance traveled by during the Memorial Day holiday weekend is expected to be 690 miles, 48 miles more than last year’s average of 642 miles.

Median spending is expected to decrease as travelers prioritize family and friends

Median spending during the Memorial Day holiday weekend is expected to be $659, 6 percent less than the $702 median spending last year. Transportation is expected to consume approximately 28 cents of every dollar. Travelers expect to spend 22 percent on food and beverage and 20 percent on lodging.

During the holiday weekend, more than half of travelers plan to visit with friends/family (59 percent) and dine (55 percent). Other popular activities include shopping (44 percent), going to the beach (32 percent) and touring and sightseeing (27 percent).

Car rental rates highest in four years, hotel rates rise modestly

According to AAA, hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to increase more than 4 percent from one year ago, with travelers spending an average of $166 per night compared to $160 last year. The average hotel rate for AAA Two Diamond hotels remained unchanged with an average cost of $120 per night. Weekend daily car rental rates will average $43, 19 percent more than last year and the highest rate recorded for the holiday since 2009.

Posted May 22, 2013

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