Holiday travel is expected to increase during the July 4 period compared with last year, but the mid-week holiday is likely to result in more spread-out travel plans that could ease congestion. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the fuel bill for road trips should be smaller, though gasoline is still far from cheap.
The travel-services group AAA estimates 42.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the coming holiday weekend, a 4.9% jump from last year. The projected travel volume will match the high point of the past decade, which occurred in 2007, and marks an increase of nearly 42% from 2009.
Road trippers will recall that the July 4 period was near the peak of a spike in gasoline prices in 2008, and many still-shell-shocked motorists stayed close to home in 2009. AAA defines the Independence Day travel period as July 3 to July 8.
Because July 4 is Wednesday, the usual five-day travel period grows to six days and gives people the option of including a weekend and two week days either before or after the actual holiday. AAA asked prospective travelers about their planned departure day, and 54% said they expected to begin their trip before the start of the week that includes July 4.
Lower fuel prices are helping to drive travel volume. The average price of regular gas in the U.S. is $3.44, almost 14 cents lower than last year and about 50 cents below the recent peak in April.
“AAA’s projection for a decade high number of Independence Day travelers is being fed by Americans’ appetite for travel, a mid-week holiday and lower gas prices,” said Bill Sutherland, vice president, AAA Travel Services. “This is the second holiday this year where travelers indicated a determination to travel while economizing by actively seeking value-added travel options and activities,” Sutherland said.
There will be fewer people on roads, beaches and airports to crowd Independence Day travelers, according to the latest travel forecast from AAA.
AAA is predicting a 2.5% decline in trips more than 50 miles from home during the July 4 travel period, which it defines as June 30-July 4. AAA believes about 39 million Americans will travel during the holiday weekend.
The predicted decline is a dramatic swing from the same time last year, when AAA forecast a 17.1% increase in July 4 travel.
Despite recent moderation in fuel prices, AAA attributes the change in travel plans to gas prices that are about $1 more per gallon more than a year ago. The organization says that, based on its survey conducted by IHS Global Insight, households with incomes of $50,000 or less will show the largest declines in holiday travel plans as fuel prices eat up a larger portion of their budgets.
Last year, households with incomes less than $50,000 accounted for 41% of all July 4 holiday trips; this year, the percentage is expected to be 33%. Households with incomes of more than $100,000 take up the slack, rising 9 percentage points this year to account for 35% of Independence Day travel.
The shift to a higher proportion of well-off travelers is likely responsible for the reported plans to increase holiday travel spending by about 25% over last year, to a median $807. AAA’s survey said higher spending is expected across the travel industry sector and is not attributable solely to higher fuel costs.