With gas prices dropping nationally to an average of $3.67 a gallon, more Americans will be taking to the open road this Memorial Day weekend than in recent years. According to AAA, 34.8 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more, up 1.2 percent from last year. But they’re taking shorter trips, chopping off an average of 150 miles from last year’s 792 miles.
“The overall domestic economic picture continues to improve slightly. [But] American consumers faced a new challenge this year as steadily increasing gas prices throughout the spring significantly squeezed many household budgets,” said AAA president Robert Darbelnet in a statement. “Americans will still travel [this] Memorial Day holiday weekend, but many [will cut] entertainment dollars.”
About 9 out of 10 travelers say they’ll go by car this weekend, while only 7 percent of survey takers said they planned to fly; that’s down more than 5.5 percent from a year ago. Average airfares are up more than 7 percent from a year ago, the report said. The survey’s median cost of the holiday weekend is $702, a slight uptick from last year’s $692.
5 TOP ‘DRIVE-FLY’ DESTINATIONS
The growth in Memorial Day holiday travel can be tied in part to a change in the income demographics of the holiday’s travelers. According to the survey results, the share of expected holiday travelers in the under-$50K household income bracket has fallen five percent, from 31 percent to 26 percent. The share of expected travelers in the $50K-$100K household income bracket dropped one percent.
But households with incomes over $100K increased six percent, from 30 percent to 36 percent. The effect of higher gas prices is more significant on lower income households: Fuel costs comprise a larger share of overall spending.
The top five “drive-fly” destinations this Memorial Day – as drawn from vacation booking information compiled by AAA – are:
* Las Vegas
No matter where travelers go, though, “an emerging trend this Memorial Day is that people are looking to economize: They’re taking value-added vacations like cruises and tour packages, which require most of the expenses to be paid up front,” Cynthia Brough of AAA told The Fiscal Times. “Vacationers want the best value.”
More vacationers are also using travel agencies and agents than in the recent past, according to AAA bookings across the U.S. “When the online booking technology was in its infancy, there was a lot of excitement,” said Brough. “But now the pendulum is swinging back toward using the services of professional travel agents, either instead of online bookings or in addition to them. Travelers are doing a lot more homework to make sure they’re getting extra value.”
As far as 2012 summer travel goes, a heads up: Brough says that the most popular summer destinations so far this year, among North American AAA members, are the Caribbean; Alaska; the Bahamas; Europe; and Bermuda.