Americans Find Funds for Holiday Travels in Spite of Tough Economy

More than 43 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles this holiday weekend, according to AAA’s Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Forecast, and 90 percent of those journeys will take place on the road. Thanksgiving travel has increased for four consecutive years, and is now up markedly from 2008 when the Great Recession caused it to fall 25 percent. Still, the continued tough economy is keeping travelers closer to home. AAA reports the average distance traveled will decline 118 miles this year to 588 miles. The shorter traveling distances are due in part to travelers’ tighter gas budgets, but largely because of the decreased number of airline trips.

“Thanksgiving travel hit a decade low in 2008 when only 37.8 million Americans traveled,” said AAA President and CEO Robert Darbelnet. “Since that year we have seen a steady increase in the number of travelers taking to the roads and skies for the holiday. Americans continue to find ways to economize their budgets so they can gather around the holiday table to carve the turkey.”

Fortunately for Thanksgiving travelers, gas prices have been on the decline in recent weeks. Although the national average is still hovering around $3.30 a gallon—similar to last year’s $3.32, according to AAA the most expensive Thanksgiving average ever—it is about 40 cents per gallon less than was being charged in early October.

The lower gas prices should help budget-conscious holiday travelers who plan to spend about $500 over the Thanksgiving holiday this year, according to AAA—a 10-percent decrease compared to the expected spending of 2011 holiday travelers. And although more Americans plan to drive this holiday, the average lowest round-trip rate among the top 40 US air routes is actually 11 percent less than it was last year, at just $188 a ticket.

There may be fewer traveling by air, but Airlines for America forecast almost 24 million passengers in the sky over the Thanksgiving traveling season. And, since higher fuel prices have caused airlines to cut back on the number of flights, airplanes are expected to be 90 percent full. That means most tickets will still be more expensive than last year.

“Thanksgiving airfare and hotel prices are up compared to last year, and they’re likely to increase even more as we get closer to the holiday,” Hotwire Group president Clem Bason told CNN.
Still, whether it’s sleet, snow or dollar signs, tenacious Americans can find a way over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house for the Thanksgiving celebration.
“When it comes to making choices, carving turkey with family and friends trumps pinching pennies,” Darbelnet said in a November press conference.