AAA: 98.6 Million Americans Expected to Hit the Year-End Travel Byways

516,000 Idahoans among beneficiaries of an improved economy, cheaper gas, longer travel period

A recipe that includes gains in disposable income, a longer travel period, and a decent dose of consumer confidence is expected to yield 98.6 million American travelers during a 13-day year-end travel period starting December 23 and ending January 4.

AAA travel projections point to an increase of four percent from the 94.8 million people who traveled last year. It’s the highest forecast growth rate since 2009.

AAA predicts 516,000 Idahoans will travel at least 50 miles from home during the period. Nine of every ten travelers—representing 462,000 Gem State residents—will be passengers or drivers in motor vehicles. Stretched out over nearly a two-week period, the numbers are not expected to result in undue congestion on the state’s roads and bridges.
“Lower gas prices and growing consumer confidence are putting extra dividends in the stockings of holiday travelers this year,” said AAA Idaho spokesman Dave Carlson. “And the extended length of the holiday period this year will boost this year’s extra holiday car travel above prior levels.”

This year’s holiday period is one day longer than the same holiday a year ago and two days longer than the holiday periods in 2011 and 2012. The period is based on a formula that accounts for the day of the week the holiday falls. A longer holiday travel period offers more options for departures and return trips, making it possible for more people to fit holiday travel into their schedules.

Highlights from the 2014 Year-End Holiday Travel Forecast:

98.6 million: number of travelers nationwide, up from 94.4 million a year ago
90.8%; 89.5%: percentage of U.S. and Idaho travelers, respectively, going by car
516,000: total number of Idahoans expected to travel 50 miles or more from home
462,000: total number of Idahoans riding or driving 50 miles or more in a motor vehicle
5.72 million:number of Americans taking to the skies; represents 5.8% of all travel
$2.53, U.S.; $2.58, Idaho: Current average price per gallon for regular grade gasoline, U.S. and Idaho, respectively (Dec 16)
36,600: number of Idahoans expected to fly during the holiday period
$143; per-night hotel rate for AAA Three Diamond Lodgings
$186; Average discounted round-trip airfare among top 40 domestic U.S routes

The impact of gasoline prices on travel plans
AAA’s travel projections are based on economic forecasting. Improved financial stability and employment gains associated with a stronger labor market have given consumers a positive outlook. But the impact of falling gasoline prices on the psyche of American driver may trump all else this holiday, AAA says.

Based on AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report, Idaho’s average price of $2.58 a gallon is within striking distance of the U.S. average price of $2.53. In just the past week, Idaho’s average price plummeted 23 cents a gallon to outpace all other states.
Idaho prices, among the highest in the U.S. for months, fell 57 cents in the past thirty days, at a pace averaging nearly twocents a day.

“Why Idaho’s prices appeared insulated for months from the factors responsible for lower prices nearly everywhere else is not clear,” Carlson said. “Nevertheless, the Gem State relinquished its dubious distinction for having among the nation’s highest prices, and that’s great news for holiday travelers.”

Idaho’s gas prices have not been lower since December 2009. The full impact of the global oil glut has not yet hit retail markets, so prices are expected to drop further coming into the holiday. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil closed at $55.91 a barrel on trading yesterday, the lowest price since May 2009. That’s about half this year’s high price of $107.26 recorded in June.

Hotel, car rental rates rise modestly
According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to increase four percent from one year ago with travelers spending an average of $143 per night compared to $138 last year. The average hotel rate for AAA Two Diamond hotels has risen five percent with an average cost of $108 per night. Daily car rental rates will average $66, four percent higher than last year.

“We would expect to see further declines before the Thanksgiving travel period,” Carlson said.

Auto travel remains dominant mode
AAA expects auto travel will accounted for 89.5 million travelers, or 90.8 percent of the nation’s 98.6 million total travelers. Some 5.72 million Americans, or 7.8 percent of all holiday travelers, will fly.

Other modes of travel—including trains, bus and cruise—will account for the remaining 3.4 percent of total person-trips, representing 3.35 million travelers.

AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight. The Colorado-based business information provider teamed with AAA in 2009 to jointly analyze travel trends during the major holidays. AAA has been reporting on holiday travel trends for more than two decades.

Be safe on the road
With more than 90 percent of holiday travelers driving to their destinations, AAA urges everyone on the road to be extra diligent about the dangers of impaired driving. According to the latest data from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s annual Traffic Safety Culture Index, one in eight of all licensed drivers who drink at least occasionally reported having driven when they thought their alcohol level might have been close to, or possibly over, the legal limit in the past year.

Published 12-19-14