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AAA forecasts slight increase in holiday travel

December 26, 2012
Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

BUFFALO - AAA projects 93.3 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the year-end holidays, an increase of 1.6 percent over the 91.8 million people who traveled last year.

This increase marks the fourth consecutive year of growing year-end travelers since declining by 3 percent in 2008. The year-end holiday travel period is defined as Saturday, Dec. 22 to Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013.

Highlights from AAA's 2012-13 Year-End Holiday Travel Forecast include:

Ninety percent of travelers, 84.4 million, to travel by automobile, an increase of 1.3 percent. Holiday auto travelers will represent 26.7 percent of the total U.S. population;

Holiday air travel expected to increase 4.5 percent to 5.6 million travelers from 5.4 million in 2011;

Median spending expected to increase almost 6 percent to $759, compared to $718 in 2011 with transportation costs, including lodging, consuming about 29 cents of every travel dollar; and

Average distance traveled to increase to 760 miles round-trip from 726 miles, an expected result with an increase in air travelers.

"The year-end holiday season is the least volatile of all travel holidays and remains the time when people plan to visit family and friends," President and CEO of AAA Western and Central New York Tony Spada said. "Americans will not let economic conditions or higher gas prices dictate if they go home for the holidays or kick off the New Year with a vacation."

AAA does not expect gas prices to have a major impact on travel volume, but consumers could have more money to spend on holiday shopping, dining and entertainment if prices drop through December. AAA estimates the national average price of gasoline will slowly decrease through the end of the year and average between $3.20 and $3.30 a gallon by New Year's Day.

The current national average price for regular unleaded gasoline is approximately $3.30 per gallon, about $0.04 more than one year ago. Drivers statewide are paying an average of $3.78 per gallon. The average price for a gallon of self-serve regular is $3.77 in the Buffalo Niagara region, $3.73 in the Rochester area and $3.66 in the Syracuse area as of Thursday, Dec. 13.

Approximately 90 percent of travelers, or 84.4 million, plan to travel by automobile this holiday season. This is a 1.3 percent increase over the 83.3 million people who traveled by auto last year. Air travel is expected to increase 4.5 percent as 6 percent of travelers or 5.6 million will take to the skies. Approximately 3.3 million travelers will choose other modes of transportation, including rail, bus and cruise ship.

According to AAA's Leisure Travel Index, year-end holiday hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to increase 2 percent from a year ago, with travelers spending an average of $129 per night compared to $126 last year. Travelers planning to stay at AAA Two Diamond hotels can expect to pay 3 percent more, at an average cost of $95 per night.

Daily car rental rates will average $56, compared to $40 last year. For the year-end holiday period, the average lowest round-trip airfare is $203 for the top 40 U.S. air routes, a 3 percent decrease from last year.

The average distance traveled by Americans during holiday period is expected to be 760 miles, further than last year when travelers planned to log 726 miles.

Median spending is expected to be $759, a 6 percent increase compared to the expected median spending of intended holiday travelers, $718, last year.

Dining - 67 percent - and spending time with family and friends - 66 percent - are the most popular activities planned by travelers. It is not surprising that during holiday season shopping is the third most popular activity with 57 percent expecting to shop. More than one-third - 34 percent - of holiday travelers plan to sightsee during their trips.

As Upstate New York's largest member services organization, AAA provides nearly 860,000 members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive related services. Since its founding in 1900, AAA has been a leading advocate for the safety and security of all travelers.

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