AAA projects slight Thanksgiving travel decline,
but plans remain strong despite national economy
Amid the mixed signals of much lower gasoline prices and an economic meltdown marked by declines in consumer confidence and spending, families will find ways to get to grandma's place for the Thanksgiving holiday, AAA Idaho said.
The travel organization said it expects 41 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday weekend, down 1.2 percent or 600,000 from a year ago and the fourth consecutive travel holiday this year with a year-to-year decline in the number of holiday travelers.
"There are plenty of pocketbook reasons Americans could opt not to travel this Thanksgiving, but all things considered, travel intentions are quite strong for this holiday," said AAA Idaho spokesman Dave Carlson. "A hot meal at grandma's house and much lower gasoline prices may be just the incentives that will keep travel numbers near to where they have been in recent years."
Among the 41 million total travelers, 33.2 million Americans (81 percent of all holiday travelers) expect to go by automobile, a 1.2 percent decline from the 33.6 million people who drove a year ago.
Record drops in gasoline prices mean auto travelers will pay far less at the pump this year. Idaho's average price for regular unleaded gasoline is $2.16, and the national average is $2.07. Both are about a dollar lower per gallon than a year ago and about 50 percent lower than the record highs of more than $4.00 a gallon set in July.
A global collapse in oil prices, fueled by fears of future economic slowdowns and diminishing driver demand, continues to drive wholesale and retail prices lower, giving motorists some relief at the pump. In recent days, oil has traded in the mid-$50 range, well below the $70 mark that some analysts thought was a more likely settling point.
What's up, what's down?
More than eight of every ten Americans traveling during the holiday will do so by automobile. In addition, AAA said it expects nearly 4.54 million, or 11 percent of holiday travelers, will fly this holiday. That's down 7.2 percent from the 4.89 million who flew a year ago.
According to AAA's Leisure Travel Index (LTI), higher airfares (up about 8 percent this holiday), higher car rental fees (up four percent on average) and new fees for checked baggage by many airlines, may account for greater numbers of Americans who will opt for other travel modes.
For instance, AAA estimates 3.3 million will travel by bus, train or some other mode, up 5.8 percent or 180,000 from last Thanksgiving. "Though few Americans appear willing to forego travel for the holiday altogether, they show a willingness to economize wherever they can," Carlson said.
AAA's holiday travel projections are derived from the Travel Industry Association's (TIA) Holiday Travel Forecast Model. The model incorporates results from consumer surveys regarding travel intentions along with TIA's quarterly travel forecast data.
The projected decline in the number of travelers over the Thanksgiving holiday represents a continuation of fewer holiday travelers in 2008 starting with Memorial Day and continuing through three holiday periods since then.
The West will see the biggest decline in the percentage of people driving among five geographic regions of the country. TIA officials speculate the 2.9 percent drop compared to a year ago is likely a result of difficult economic times in California and higher travel costs in the West. In addition, travel destinations involve greater travel distances for westerners.
AAA Idaho estimates that 144,300 Idahoans will be passengers or drivers in motor vehicles traveling 50 miles or more this holiday period, down about 7,000 from a year ago.
Nearly 58 percent of survey respondents in the U.S. said they plan to visit friends and family during the holiday. In the West, the percentage visiting family and friends is 64.4 percent.
Travel smart and save
AAA Idaho offers the following advice for holiday travelers:
Plan ahead. Get point-to-point driving directions, gas station locations and prices, maps, and travel aids before you go. Much of this information is available to the public at http://www.AAA.com.
Prepare your vehicle. Have your vehicle checked by a qualified technician. Check tires, batteries and fluid levels. Take a winter driving kit, including such items as jumper cables, traction mats, water, blankets, a flashlight (with new batteries) and a cell phone (with charged batteries).
Buckle up. Follow all posted speed limits and obey all traffic laws.
Prepare yourself. Dress in layers and dress according to your destination. Let someone know when you're leaving, where you're going, and when you expect to arrive.
Dial 511 and go to 511.Idaho.gov for road conditions and other traveler services.