Memorial Day Will Be The Perfect Day To Travel As Gas Prices Drop

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Photo: Flickr / silverxraven

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 per cent 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 travellers say they’ll go by car this weekend, while only 7 per cent of survey takers said they planned to fly; that’s down more than 5.5 per cent from a year ago.

Average airfares are up more than 7 per cent 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.

The growth in Memorial Day holiday travel can be tied in part to a change in the income demographics of the holiday’s travellers.

According to the survey results, the share of expected holiday travellers in the under-$50K household income bracket has fallen five per cent, from 31 per cent to 26 per cent. The share of expected travellers in the $50K-$100K household income bracket dropped one per cent.

But households with incomes over $100K increased six per cent, from 30 per cent to 36 per cent. 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:

* Orlando
* Cancun
* Honolulu
* Annaheim
* Las Vegas

No matter where travellers 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.”

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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. travellers 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.

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