AAA projects 94.5 million Americans (29.7 percent of the population) will travel 50 miles or more from home during the year-end holidays, an increase of .6 percent over the 94 million who traveled a year ago. This is the highest travel volume ever projected for this holiday season, and the fifth consecutive year of increases in the number of travelers. The year-end holiday period is defined as Saturday, December 21 to Wednesday, January 1.
“Americans are not going to be scrooges when it comes to holiday travel, so AAA is projecting an increase in the number of Americans stuffing their stockings with airline tickets and hotel reservations,” says AAA Oregon/Idaho Public Affairs Director Marie Dodds. “While economic growth has stagnated and consumer confidence has fallen, more than one-quarter of Americans are still planning to travel for the holidays. The year-end holiday season remains the least volatile of all travel holidays as people will not let economic conditions dictate if they go home for the holidays.”
“Despite continued economic challenges, this marks the fifth consecutive year of travel volume growth since the recession-driven decline of the holiday period in December 2008 and January 2009, and we continue to see a slow but steady rebound in holiday travel,” says Doreen Loofburrow, Vice President of Travel for AAA Oregon/Idaho. “With Christmas and New Year’s Day both falling on Wednesdays this year, the growth in travelers is partly driven by calendar effects, as this year the holiday is a 12-day period, compared to the 11-day period last year.”
Since 2001/02, the number of travelers over the year-end holidays has ranged from a high of 94.5 million this year to a low of 74.4 million travelers in 2001/02, which was the holiday season following 9/11.
Pacific Region also to see increase in Year-end Holiday travel
In the Pacific region (Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska and Hawaii), 15.9 million travelers are expected to travel during the holidays, an increase of .4 percent from last year.
The forecast calls for 30.7 percent of Pacific region residents to travel this holiday, which is slightly higher than the percentage of the national population expected to travel (29.7 percent).
While the Pacific region is seeing positive movement in a few key indicators, the recovery has slowed in recent months. The slight uptick in holiday travel stems from the additional day in this year’s holiday travel period compared to last year.
Driving is top transportation choice
Travel by car is the predominant mode of travel during the holidays, with 85.8 million or 91 percent of holiday travelers going by automobile, an increase of .9 percent compared to last year. Automobile travel remains the preferred choice of transportation for 2013-14 year-end holiday travelers as 27 percent of the total U.S. population will hit the road.
In the Pacific region, 14.2 million will go by car, an increase of one percent over last year, with 89 percent of holiday travelers driving.
AAA expects to rescue 3.76 million motorists during the holiday season
Between December 21 and January 1, AAA expects to come to the rescue of 3.76 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.
With nine in ten holiday travelers driving to their destinations, AAA urges everyone on the road to be extra diligent about the dangers of impaired driving, particularly when holiday partygoers may risk getting behind the wheel after a festive evening.
According to the latest data from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s annual Traffic Safety Culture Index, one in five 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 that 96 percent of drivers consider impaired driving to be unacceptable, with 50 percent reporting that drunk drivers are a bigger problem today versus three years ago.
“Despite the warnings about drinking and driving especially during the holiday season, alcohol-related crashes still represent one in three motor vehicle deaths,” adds Dodds.
AAA works year round to educate motorists about safe driving practices. PreventDUI.AAA.com is an online resource offering impaired driving facts, transportation alternatives and expert advice.
Impact of gasoline prices on travel plans
Gas prices have climbed slightly from the multi-year lows in November, when the national average sank to $3.18 per gallon on November 12, and Oregon’s average fell to $3.27 on November 25. But drivers will likely pay less than a year ago to fill up during the holiday season.
The current national average for regular unleaded is $3.22 which is three cents less than a year ago. Oregon’s current average is $3.29 which is two cents less than a year ago.
Gas prices recently increased because of planned and unplanned maintenance at a number of refineries and seasonally stronger demand for gasoline. Barring unforeseen events, AAA believes pump prices should decline by the end of the year due to rising supplies and increased refinery production.
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 continue to drop through December as expected.
“Travel by car is typically a lower-cost option than flying, and it offers more flexibility than most other travel options. In addition, the 12-day year-end travel period allows travelers to take longer road trips,” adds Dodds.
Air travel and airfare decrease
Air travel is expected to decrease 1.4 percent as 5.53 million holiday travelers (1.7 percent of the population and 5.9 percent of all holiday travelers) will take to the skies.
In the Pacific Region, 1.25 million (2.4 percent of the population) are expected to travel by air, a decrease of 2.7 percent compared to last year. That means 7.9 percent of holiday travels in this region will fly to their holiday destinations. The Pacific region typically has a higher-than-average share of the population travel by plane, which holds true for this holiday season.
Those traveling by air will find airfares slightly lower than last year according to AAA’s Leisure travel Index. During Christmas week the average lowest round-trip rate is $199 for the top 40 U.S. air routes compared to $204 last year.
Approximately 3.13 million travelers will choose other modes of transportation, including rail, bus and cruise ship.
Hotel rates relatively flat, car rental rates jump
According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to average $138 per night compared to $142 last year.
Travelers planning to stay at AAA Two Diamond hotels can expect to pay an average cost of $102 per night, compared to $101 in 2012.
Weekend daily car rental rates will average $63, compared to $55 last year, an increase of 14.5 percent.
Travel distance increases nationally but decreases in Pacific Region
The average distance traveled by Americans during the year-end holiday travel season is expected to be 805 miles, an increase of 45 miles from last year when travelers logged 760 miles. , In the Pacific Region, average distance traveled is expected to be 750 miles, down from 838 miles last year.
Median spending increases slightly nationally but decreases in Pacific Region
Median spending nationally is expected to be $765 up from $759 last year. Fuel and transportation costs combine to consume the largest share of holiday spending (35 percent), followed by food and beverages (18 percent), shopping (16 percent), entertainment/recreation (14 percent) and accommodations (13 percent).
In the Pacific Region, average spending is expected to be $812 down from $1,048 last year.
Main purpose of holiday travel is to visit friends and family
The holiday season is a time for visiting with loved ones and enjoying meals together so it’s not surprising that 74 percent of holiday travelers plan to visit with friends and relatives, and 70 percent plan to dine. 51 percent plan to shop, even though most of the year-end holiday travel period occurs after Christmas.
Other popular activities are touring/sightseeing (30 percent), night life (28 percent), visiting historic sites (21 percent), visiting museums and art exhibits (21 percent), going to the beach or waterfront (18 percent), attending concerts, plays, etc. (17 percent) and watching sporting events (16 percent).
Year-End Holiday Travel Tips
More Americans travel during the year-end holiday season than during any other holiday period throughout the year. Our nation’s roadways and airports will be busier than normal, so holiday travelers should be sure to pack more patience. AAA offers these important travel tips that can help everyone have an enjoyable and safe year-end holiday season.
- Plan ahead. The free AAA Mobile app for iPhone, Android and iPad uses GPS navigation to help travelers map a route, find current gas prices and discounts and access AAA roadside assistance. Travelers can learn about the AAA Mobile app and AAA Mobile Web at AAA.com/mobile.
AAA’s digital tools for travel planning ‘on the go’ include eTourBook guides for 101 top North American destinations, available free to members at AAA.com/ebooks. Choose from city titles, like the award-winning Las Vegas, regions, like Wine Country, and National Parks.
On AAA.com, travelers can find thousands of AAA Approved and Diamond Rated hotels and restaurants using AAA’s TripTik Travel Planner or the searchable Travel Guides 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.
- Arrive early. Airports are crowded, parking lots are full, and security steps may be intensified so allow additional time at your departure airport.
“For many air travelers, this may be the only time of the year they fly. So it may take them longer than seasoned travelers to get through security. We recommend that you arrive at the airport two hours before your domestic flight, and three hours early for international flights,” says Loofburrow. “Keep holiday gifts unwrapped and know what you can and cannot bring with you through security.”
Monitor weather conditions closely, and before leaving home, visit your airline’s website for updates about the status of your flight. Travelers can visit www.TSA.gov to find updated information as well as holiday travel tips which include information to get through security checkpoints smoothly and quickly.
Avoid the 3 Deadly D’s of Driving:
- Drunk or Drugged Driving. Remember that impairment begins with the first sip of alcohol. A designated driver should be alcohol-free, not merely the person in your party who has consumed the least amount of alcohol. Many medications have side effects that cause impairment, so read medication labels thoroughly.
- Drowsy Driving. Get seven to nine hours of sleep before driving. Take a break every 100 miles or two hours. Do not drive during hours when you routinely sleep. If you feel tired while driving, pull over to a safe location and take a 20-to 30-minute nap. If possible share driving duties with another person.
- Distracted Driving. It is the driver’s responsibility to keep eyes, mind and body fully focused on the task of driving. Assign a passenger to be the designated texter, talker, and navigator. If traveling alone, pull over to a safe location to use your cell phone or adjust your navigation device, then proceed on your trip distraction free. Child and pet passengers can be distractions to drivers, so allow another adult passenger to interact with these family members.
Use Common Sense
Don't let your electronic gadget be a substitute for common sense. For example, a GPS system may suggest the "shortest route," but that could lead you to roads that are snowy and not maintained during the winter months. It’s a good idea to plan your entire route in advance, using a paper map or a map online, instead of relying only on your GPS which only displays a small portion of the route at a time. Also, share your itinerary with a friend or family members so that if you don’t arrive at your destination, they know where to start looking for you.