With two holiday weekends this December, AAA anticipates Christmas-New Year’s holiday travel to hit its highest level ever, with an estimated 62.7 million Americans traveling 50 miles or more from home, a 3% increase from last year’s 60.8 million.
“With Christmas and New Year’s Day both falling on Saturdays, many people will make weekend getaways,” said Shannon Swanson, AAA Minnesota/Iowa spokesperson. “There is a downside to having both holidays fall on weekends, though. Last year provided separate weeklong windows for typical Saturday-to-Saturday vacations built around either Christmas or New Year’s. This year, with just one week that includes the two holidays, competition for space at beach destinations, on cruise ships and at ski resorts has been much greater than last year.”
Here’s AAA’s breakdown of how the 60.8 million travelers will reach their destinations this year: Approximately 50.9 million holiday, or nearly 84%, anticipate going by motor vehicle, a 2.9% increase from the 49.4 million who drove a year ago; 8.6 million, or 14%, will travel by airplane, up 3.5% from the 8.3 million that flew last Christmas-New Year’s holiday; 3.2 million, or 5%, will go by train, bus or other mode of transportation, up from 3.1 million a year ago.
Holiday auto travelers will find gas prices nationwide currently averaging $1.83 per gallon, down 14 cents during the last month, but about 36 cents higher than a year ago.
Other holiday travel costs have declined from last year, with airfares down 6%, a reflection of expanded service by discount airlines. Hotel rates are bucking recent price increases, falling 1.4% from last year while rental car rates increased slightly, up 2.3% from 2003.
AAA predicted that the greatest number of holiday auto travelers will originate in the Southeast with 13.3 million, followed by the West, 12.9 million; Midwest, 10.3 million; the Great Lakes, 8.0 million; and the Northeast, 6.4 million.
The Southeast is expected to produce the largest number of air travelers with 2.5 million, just ahead of the West, with 2.4 million. They are followed by the Northeast, 1.7 million; Midwest, 1.1 million; and Great Lakes with 900,000.
Sixty percent of travelers expect to stay at a friend or relative’s home. Hotels and motels are the choice for 25%, followed by rented cabin/condo, 4%; owned cabin/condo, 3%; camper/trailer/RV/tent, 1%; other, 2%; no overnight stay, 2%; and didn’t know, 3%t.
Cities are the expected destination for 40 percent of Christmas-New Year’s travelers, followed by towns/rural areas, 29%. Oceans and beaches are popular, and should lure 15% of travelers, followed by mountain areas, 7%; 2% for lake areas; and 1% each for theme/amusement parks and state/national parks.