AAA projects 34.8 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the Memorial Day holiday weekend, an increase of 1.2 percent – or 500,000 travelers – from the 34.3 million people who traveled one year ago. The Memorial Day holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, May 24 to Monday, May 28.
“The overall domestic economic picture continues to improve slightly, however, American consumers faced a new challenge this year as steadily increasing gas prices throughout the spring significantly squeezed many household budgets,” said AAA President and CEO Robert L. Darbelnet. “Americans will still travel during the Memorial Day holiday weekend but, many will compensate for reduced travel budgets by staying closer to home and cutting entertainment dollars.”
Automobile adds to dominance as lead transportation choice, up 1.2 percent
Approximately 30.7 million people plan to drive to their destination, an increase of 1.2 percent from the 30.3 million who drove last year. Almost nine out of ten holiday travelers (88 percent) will take to the nation’s roadways during the Memorial Day weekend keeping automobile travel in the traditional lead as the dominate mode of holiday travel transportation.
Impact of gasoline prices on travel plans
A survey of intended travelers found that 53 percent said recent increases in gasoline prices would not impact their Memorial Day holiday travel plans. Of the remaining 47 percent of travelers who said gas prices would impact their travel plans, nine percent are planning to take a shorter trip, four percent will travel by an alternate mode of transportation and 34 percent will economize in other areas. Those who intend to economize in other areas plan to reduce spending on entertainment (65 percent), stay at a lower priced hotel (34 percent), stay with friends and relatives instead of reserving a hotel room (31 percent) or stay in a hotel that includes value-added amenities like free breakfast and internet (27 percent).
National gasoline prices may have peaked in April despite seasonal highs in early spring when motorists experienced average price increases for all but four days in February and March. April experienced a full reversal as prices fell for 23 of 30 days during the month, helping to break a streak of 911 days since the national average price was lower than the previous year. The current national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline is approximately 25 cents lower than this time last year.
Number of air travelers expected to decline by 5.5 percent
More than 2.5 million leisure air travelers (over seven percent of holiday travelers) will fly during the holiday weekend, a 5.5 percent decrease from last year’s 2.7 million air travelers. The remaining 4.5 percent of holiday travelers are expected to travel by other modes, including rail, bus and watercraft.
Average travel distance significantly less than last year
According to a survey of traveler intentions, the average distance traveled by Americans during the Memorial Day holiday weekend is expected to be 642 miles, which is 150 miles less than last year’s average travel distance of 792 miles. With high gas prices squeezing consumers’ spending power this spring, consumers are responding by traveling shorter distances this Memorial Day holiday.
The decline in expected air travel is a factor in the travel distance decrease as fewer flying miles can be contrasted with the slight growth in automobile travel. Miles flown for weekend travel are typically longer than those driven. Last year, the shortest trips, those less than 150 miles, made up 19 percent of total travel compared to 21 percent this year, reinforcing the expectation that shorter trips are especially popular this Memorial Day weekend. Median spending is expected to be $702, only slightly more than the $692 median spending last year.
Change in income demographics of Memorial Day Travelers
The growth in Memorial Day holiday travel can be tied, in part, to a change in the income demographics of Memorial Day holiday travelers compared to last year. Survey results reveal that the share of expected holiday travelers in the under $50K household income bracket has fallen five percent, from 31 percent to 26 percent. The share of expected travelers in the $50K-$100K household income bracket dropped one percent. Conversely, the share of travelers with household incomes over $100K increased six percent, from 30 percent to 36 percent. The effect of higher gas prices is more significant on lower income households as fuel costs make up a larger share of overall spending.
Car rental rates drop, hotel rates rise
According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to increase eight percent from a year ago with travelers spending an average of $160 per night compared to $148 last year. Travelers planning to stay at AAA Two Diamond hotels can expect to pay 10 percent more with an average cost of $120 per night. Weekend daily car rental rates will average $36, four percent ($2) less than last year.
AAA offers mobile travel planning resources
AAA’s digital tools for travel planning ‘on the go’ include eTourBook guides for 101 top North American destinations, free to members at AAA.com/ebooks. Choose from city titles, like Orlando, New York and the award-winning Las Vegas, as well as National Parks. They’re usable on the same devices travelers already bring along for the road — tablets and smartphones.
Free AAA apps for iPhone and Android devices use GPS navigation to help travelers map a route, locate nearby member discounts and find current gas prices. Travelers can learn about AAA apps and AAA Mobile Web at AAA.com/mobile.
Travelers can find thousands of AAA Approved and Diamond Rated hotels and restaurants using AAA’s digital travel planning tools or online at AAA.com/Travel. Every AAA Approved establishment offers the assurance of acceptable cleanliness, comfort and hospitality, and ratings of One to Five Diamonds help travelers find the right match for amenities and services.
AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight. The Boston-based economic research and consulting firm teamed with AAA in 2009 to jointly analyze travel trends during the major holidays. AAA has been reporting on holiday travel trends for more than two decades. The complete AAA / IHS Global Insight 2012 Memorial Day Holiday Travel Forecast can be found at NewsRoom.AAA.com.
As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 53 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at AAA.com.