AAA forecasts that 93.3 million Americans—a 1.6 percent increase over last year’s 91.8 million—will travel 50 miles or more from home during the 11-day Christmas/New Year’s holiday period from Saturday, Dec. 22 to Tuesday, Jan. 1.
“A slight uptick in key economic drivers and a desire to be with families will drive a modest increase in travel,” AAA Idaho spokesman Dave Carlson said. “This holiday period is traditionally very stable, and our predictions follow that pattern again this year. Despite the low growth in real disposable income, consumers appear more willing to travel and increase spending this holiday.”
This marks the fourth year of sustained growth for this holiday, according to AAA.
Gas prices and travel budgets
U.S. gas prices have dropped about 55 cents a gallon since September, but remain at record levels for this time of year. Idaho’s average price today is $3.36. The U.S. average is $3.30. AAA reported that it does not expect gas prices to have a major impact on travel volume, but recent declines likely lend some psychological benefit to travelers managing holiday budgets.
IHS Global Insight, a Colorado-based economic research and consulting firm that helps AAA derive the travel projections, applies a two-pronged approach using economic indicators and a travel-intentions survey. Economic drivers, including employment, household net worth, asset prices, housing market indicators—as well as variables related to travel and tourism—are included in the forecast methodology.
“The looming ‘fiscal cliff’ and the uncertainty in an underperforming economy complicate travel budgets this year,” Carlson said, “but some overall improvement in consumer confidence is offsetting the overall weakness of economic growth.”
The Holiday Traveler Profile is a survey used to show travel intentions related to party composition, travel distance, trip expenditures and more. The survey shows that Americans will travel farther and spend more this holiday period compared to a year ago.
Median spending is expected to be $759, a 6 percent increase from last year’s $718 figure. And the median travel distance will be 760 miles compared to 726 miles a year ago.
Based on AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, hotel rates and daily car rental rates are higher this year than a year ago.
Travel by the numbers
Auto travel will remain the dominant mode of transportation, accounting for 90 percent of all travel, or 84.4 million of the total 93.3 million total travelers. This is a 1.3 percent increase over the 83.3 million who drove a year ago.
Air travel is expected to account for 6 percent of all travel, up slightly from the 5.9 percent last year. Some 5.6 million people are expected to fly, an increase of 4.5 percent from the 5.4 million travelers in 2011.
Other modes of travel (bus, train, cruise) will account for the remaining 3.5 percent of total person-trips, accounting for 3.3 million travelers.