Memorial Day Travel Dilemmas
More people plan to travel this Memorial Day than in 2010 despite skyrocketing gas prices, but most will be taking to air instead of the road. The American Automobile Association (AAA) is predicting air travel will increase 12 percent over the three-day weekend that marks the unofficial start of summer. An estimated 2.93 million people a day will travel by air over the weekend.
But high gas prices will discourage holiday travelers from hitting the highways. AAA estimates that 34.9 million people will travel 50-miles-or more over the weekend, a 0.2 percent increase from 34.8 million who took to the roads last year.
Robert Darbelnet, president of AAA, said the big jump in air travel and the slight increase in road traffic are signs the economy is improving and that consumers are ready to travel again despite high gas prices. “Some travelers will compensate for the higher fuel costs by cutting in other areas of their travel budgets,” said Darbelnet.
While it’s no surprise that consumers aren’t enthusiastic about spending a fortune to hit the road this year, the increase in air travel is, given the fact airfares are 14 percent higher than they were at this time last year. The AAA estimates the lowest round-trip rate among the top 40 U.S. air routes is $201. Prices are being driven by increased demand and rising jet fuel costs.
But the increase in airfares doesn’t come close to the jump in gas prices, which are close to $4 a gallon and 37 percent higher than they were at the same time last year.
Travelers will also be paying more for overnight stays. Hotel room rates are expected to be 5 to 10 percent higher this year than last year, averaging $148 per night at standard hotels and $109 per night at budget hotels. People renting cars can also expect to pay more, with the average per-day rental price rising to $38 per day, $1 higher than in 2010.
Memorial Day weekend is usually a good indicator of summer travel trends and the jump in air travel is expected to hold up all summer. The Air Transport Association of America (ATA) is predicting an average of 2.24 million people-a-day will board planes from the start of June through the end of August, an increase of 34,000-per-day compared to last year. “It’s encouraging that more people will be flying this summer despite higher energy prices,” said ATA president Nicholas Calio. “The trends are pointing in the right direction.”
As for would-be road warriors, the high price of gas has put the brakes on a recovery that started in 2010 when road travel increased by 7 percent over Memorial Day weekend, ending a two-year decline. “Last year, travelers were making up for missed vacations and, as a result, travel increase 7 percent,” said AAA Arizona director of communications Linda Gorman, noting that road travel in Arizona will be down slightly compared to last year. “While we aren’t projecting travel growth this holiday, we are retaining the travel recovery we experienced last year.”