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December 16, 2014 Published in Top Stories, Traffic & Transportation

AAA: 98.6 Millon Americans Traveling This Christmas And New Year’s Season, Four Percent More Than Last Year

AAA projects 98.6 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home for Christmas and New Year’s, an increase of four percent from the 94.8 million people who traveled last year. This upward trend marks the highest forecast growth rate for Christmas and New Year’s since 2009 and the highest travel volume for the holiday period on record. (AAA data dates back to 2001.) The year-end holiday period is defined as Tuesday, Dec. 23 to Sunday, Jan.4.

Highlights from 2014/2015 Christmas/ New Year’s Holiday Travel Forecast:

  • Holiday travel is expected to total 98.6 million, an increase of four percent from the 94.8 million who traveled last year.
  • Travel volume for Christmas and New Year’s will reach the highest peak recorded by AAA (since 2001).
  • Nearly 91 percent of all travelers (89.5 million) will celebrate the holidays with a road trip, an increase of 4.2 percent from 2013.
  • Air travel is forecast to grow one percent from 2013, with 5.7 million travelers taking to the skies.
  • Low gas prices continue to help boost disposable income this holiday season. The national average price of gas was $2.55 per gallon or 68 cents less than a year ago as of Monday, December 15, 2014.

“’Tis the season for holiday travel, and this year more Americans will join with friends and family to celebrate the holidays and ring in the New Year than ever before,” said Marshall L. Doney, AAA President and Chief Operating Officer. “While the economy continues to improve at an uneven pace, it seems more Americans are looking forward with increasing consumer confidence, rather than looking back at the recession. This is helping to drive expected travel volumes to the highest level we have seen for the year-end holidays.”

“Lower gas prices are filling stockings with a little more cash to spend on travel this year as travelers are expected to pay the lowest prices since 2009,” continued Doney. “Lower prices are increasing disposable income and enabling families to set aside money for travel this year.”

The calendar is having a positive effect on the number of travelers expected this year. This year Christmas lands on a Thursday, creating a holiday travel season that is one day longer than last year’s and the longest since 2008, offering travelers more options for departures and return trips. This flexibility makes it possible for more people to fit holiday travel into their schedules. New Year’s Day also falls on a Thursday.

According to the latest data from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s annual Traffic Safety Culture Index, one in eight of all licensed drivers who drink at least occasionally reported having driven when they thought their alcohol level might have been close to, or possibly over, the legal limit in the past year. The survey also reveals 91% of drivers consider impaired driving to be unacceptable, with 42% reporting that drunk drivers are a bigger problem today versus three years ago. “Despite the ubiquitous warnings about drinking and driving, especially during the holiday season, an average of one alcohol-impaired driving death occurs every 45 minutes,” said Doney.

AAA works year-round to educate motorists about driving practices that will help keep them safe and reduce traffic-related crashes and injuries.  PreventDUI.AAA.com is an online resource offering impaired driving facts, transportation alternatives and expert advice.

“With more than 90% of holiday travelers driving to their destinations, AAA urges everyone on the road to be extra diligent about the dangers of impaired driving and to drive distraction-free,” said John. B. Townsend II, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Drivers should also ensure their vehicle is prepared for winter driving as multiple winter storms are cropping up in winter forecasts.”

Impact of gasoline prices on travel plans
The national average price of gasoline is at the lowest level in five years at $2.55 as of Dec. 15, 2014. Gas prices have fallen for over 80 days in a row, helping to increase Americans’ disposable income 3.5% from year-ago levels, which has had a positive effect on travel.

Hotel, car rental rates rise modestly
According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to increase four percent from one year ago with travelers spending an average of $143 per night compared to $138 last year. The average hotel rate for AAA Two Diamond hotels has risen five percent with an average cost of $108 per night. Daily car rental rates will average $66, four percent higher than last year.

Airfares fall seven percent this year, driven by low-cost carriers
Average discounted round-trip airfares across 40 top domestic routes are expected to fall seven percent this year, to $186. This is influenced by the availability of discounted rates from low-cost carriers in several top markets. AAA encourages travelers to consider the full cost of a ticket when purchasing air travel, as many airlines charge ancillary fees for checked bags, meals, priority boarding and seat assignments.

AAA expects to rescue 1.1 million motorists this holiday season
Between Dec. 23 and Jan. 4, AAA expects to come to the rescue of more than 1.1 million motorists with the primary reasons for breakdowns being dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts. AAA recommends motorists check battery and tire condition and prepare vehicles for winter driving before heading out on a holiday getaway. Car care tips and information are available at AAA.com.

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