AAA projects 41 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the Independence Day holiday weekend, a 1.9 percent increase from the 40.3 million people who traveled last year and 5 million more compared to the Memorial Day weekend.
The majority of travelers will be celebrating their freedom with a road trip, with more than eight in 10 (34.8 million) choosing to travel by automobile. That’s the highest level since 2007 and an increase in travel volume that is 6.3 percent higher than the average volume in the previous 10 years, AAA said.
Closer to home, AAA says 13 percent of the population in the Mountain Region (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming) will travel during the holiday time period, accounting for more than 3 million trips.
Some 210,000 Idahoans are expected to travel 50 miles or more during a holiday period defined as Wednesday, July 2, to Sunday, July 6. AAA Idaho expects 169,000 Idahoans will drive to their destinations.
“A willingness to dust off our credit cards for a Fourth of July vacation may have as much as anything to do with the reason more Americans will be traveling this year,” AAA Idaho spokesman Dave Carlson said. “Spending time with family and friends is more of a priority for Idahoans this year.”
The decision to spend more is primarily due to increasing credit, rather than rising incomes. Improvements in the employment picture and rising home values have given consumers more confidence when it comes to discretionary spending, AAA said.
Impact of rising gas prices
AAA expects a majority of U.S. drivers will likely pay the highest gas prices for this holiday since 2008. Monday’s national average price for regular grade gasoline is about 20 cents per gallon more expensive than on July 4, 2013, when the average mark was $3.48. In recent years, gas prices have declined in the weeks leading up to Independence Day, but this has not occurred this summer, in part due to the higher crude oil costs resulting from violence in Iraq.
With plans already made and budgets set, it’s unlikely higher gas prices will have a significant impact on holiday travel plans, Carlson said.
“Consumers have shown a knack for economizing other portions of their vacation budgets when travel costs go up,” he said.
For the first time this year, Idaho’s $3.70 average per-gallon price for regular grade gasoline is higher than the national average price of $3.68. A year ago, Idaho’s average price was $3.78.
Idaho’s $3.70 average is also its highest this year and may be poised to move higher. Speculative market reaction to the turmoil in Iraq has had some impact on gas prices, but the availability of plentiful supplies of less expensive crude oil from Canada and North Dakota should mean that regional refineries will produce plenty of gasoline to meet seasonal demand.
“The bottom line is that pump prices could just as easily come down as go up during the remainder of the summer travel season,” Carlson said.
By the numbers
Travel volume for Independence Day has grown four of the past five years and is expected to be more than 6 percent higher than the average of the past 10 years. AAA expects 85 percent of the 41 million travelers—or 34.8 million—will go by car, an increase of 700,000 from the 2013 July 4 holiday period.
Air travel is forecast to increase just over 1 percent this year, to 3.1 million travelers. That represents a 7.6-percent share of total travel volume, surpassing 2007 for the highest since 2004. Travel by other modes of transportation including cruise, trains, and buses will also account for 3.1 million Americans.
AAA said travelers can expect a mixed bag of other travel expenses. Hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodges are expected to increase 9 percent from a year ago, with travelers spending an average of $178 per night compared to $164 last year.
Two Diamond hotel rates have risen 15 percent to an average cost of $137 per night.
Weekend daily car rental rates will average $58, the same as last year.
Airfares for the top 40 U.S. routes have declined 5 percent, with the average round-trip, discounted fare costing $215, down from $228 last year.
AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight.