About 42.3 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home over the July 4 holiday period surrounding July 4 a 4.9% increase over the 40.3 million people who traveled last year, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA).
The expected 2012 Independence Day holiday travel volume will tie the past decades previous high mark set in 2007 and represents a near 42% increase from 2009, the industry group says.
The Independence Day holiday travel period is defined as Tuesday, July 3 to Sunday, July 8.
Since July 4 falls on a Wednesday, the calendar will play a role in driving holiday travel volume, as the mid-week holiday expands the traditional five-day travel period to six days and provides the option of including a weekend and two week days on either side of the actual holiday.
When asked about day of departure, 54% of people intending to travel plan to begin their trip prior to the start of the work-week that includes July 4, the survey found.
AAAs 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 of 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, he continued.
A healthy travel industry is critical to the overall well-being of our economy and consistent increases in travel are encouraging.
Low gasoline plays big role
The price of gasoline is another factor expected to play a role in spurring travel intentions, the group found.
On April 6, US motorists experienced a year-to-date peak average price of $3.94/gal for regular gasoline.
However, the current national average price of regular gasoline is $3.50/gal, 44 cents lower than the April peak and 16 cents less than this time last year.
Highest auto travel volume in past decade
Approximately 35.5 million people plan to travel by automobile, a number which would set the high-water mark for the decade, AAA said.
Overall, 84% of all travelers said they will choose this mode of transportation. This is a 4% increase over the 34.1 million people who traveled by auto last year.
Number of air travelers expected to jump 9%
Slightly more than 3.2 million leisure travelers (8% overall) will fly during the Independence Day holiday period, a more than 9% increase over the 2.9 million air travelers in 2011, AA said.
This years increase is the third consecutive year of rising Independence Day holiday air travel volume, following the decade-low 1.4 million air travelers in 2009.
Airfares are flat year over year with an average lowest round-trip rate of $200 for the top 40 US air routes in both 2011 and 2012, according to AAAs Leisure Travel Index.
A longer holiday period and stable airfares are spurring this increase.
The remaining 8% of holiday travelers are expected to use other modes of transportation, including rail, bus and cruise ship, accounting for 3.6 million travelers - a 10% increase over last year and the second highest volume in the past 10 years.
Average travel distance increases
The average distance traveled by Americans during the holiday period is expected to be 723 miles, up 150 miles from last years average 573 miles.
The increase in expected air travel is a factor in lifting the average travel distance, as air trips typically span a longer distance than automobile trips, AAA said.
The survey found that the share of holiday trips in excess of 1,500 miles increased to 18% from last years 10% share, while the share of trips shorter than 250 miles decreased to 28% from 35% a year ago.
Median spending down 7%
Median spending is expected to be $749, a 7% decrease compared to the expected median spending of intended holiday travelers ($807) in 2011.
Lower spending activities like visiting family and friends and sightseeing are expected to increase up to 4%, while shopping and entertainment will decrease by as much as 9%, the survey said.