The American Automobile Association (AAA) service organization projects 34.8 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the upcoming Memorial Day holiday weekend, an increase of 1.2% - or 500,000 travelers - from the 34.3 million people who traveled one year ago.
The Memorial Day holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, May 24 through Monday, May 28.
The overall domestic economic picture continues to improve slightly, however, American consumers faced a new challenge this year as steadily increasing gas prices throughout the spring significantly squeezed many household budgets, said AAA chief executive Robert L. Darbelnet.
Americans will still travel during the Memorial Day holiday weekend but, many will compensate for reduced travel budgets by staying closer to home and cutting entertainment dollars.
Automobile adds to dominance as lead transportation choice, up 1.2%
Approximately 30.7 million people plan to drive to their destination, an increase of 1.2% from the 30.3 million who drove last year.
Almost nine out of ten holiday travelers (88%) will take to the nations roadways during the Memorial Day weekend, keeping automobile travel in the traditional lead as the dominate mode of holiday travel transportation.
Impact of gasoline prices on travel plans
A survey of intended travelers found that 53% said recent increases in gasoline prices would not impact their Memorial Day holiday travel plans.
Of the remaining 47% of travelers who said gas prices would impact their travel plans, 9%are planning to take a shorter trip, 4% will travel by an alternate mode of transportation and 34% will economize in other areas.
Those who intend to economize in other areas plan to reduce spending on entertainment (65%), stay at a lower-priced hotel (34%), stay with friends and relatives instead of reserving a hotel room (31%) or stay in a hotel that includes value-added amenities like free breakfast and internet (27%).
National gasoline prices may have peaked in April despite seasonal highs in early spring, when motorists experienced average price increases for all but four days in February and March.
April experienced a full reversal as prices fell for 23 of 30 days during the month, helping to break a streak of 911 days since the national average price was lower than the previous year.
The current national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline is approximately 25 cents lower than this time last year.
Number of air travelers expected to decline by 5.5%
More than 2.5 million leisure air travelers (over 7% of holiday travelers) will fly during the holiday weekend, a 5.5% decrease from last years 2.7 million air travelers. The remaining 4.5% of holiday travelers are expected to travel by other modes, including rail, bus and watercraft.
Average travel distance significantly less than last year
According to a survey of traveler intentions, the average distance traveled by Americans during the Memorial Day holiday weekend is expected to be 642 miles, which is 150 miles less than last years average travel distance of 792 miles.
With high gas prices squeezing consumers spending power this spring, consumers are responding by traveling shorter distances this Memorial Day holiday.
The decline in expected air travel is a factor in the travel distance decrease as fewer flying miles can be contrasted with the slight growth in automobile travel.
Miles flown for weekend travel are typically longer than those driven. Last year, the shortest trips, those less than 150 miles, made up 19% of total travel compared to 21% this year, reinforcing the expectation that shorter trips are especially popular this Memorial Day weekend.
Median spending is expected to be $702, only slightly more than the $692 median spending last year.
Change in income demographics of Memorial Day travelers
The growth in Memorial Day holiday travel can be tied, in part, to a change in the income demographics of Memorial Day holiday travelers compared to last year.
Survey results reveal that the share of expected holiday travelers in the under $50K household income bracket has fallen 5%, from 31% to 26%. The share of expected travelers in the $50K-$100K household income bracket dropped 1%.
Conversely, the share of travelers with household incomes over $100K increased 6%, from 30% to 36%. The effect of higher gas prices is more significant on lower income households as fuel costs make up a larger share of overall spending.
For more details on the projections, visit AAAs website by clicking here.