AAA predicts 5.4% increase in U.S. travelers for Memorial Day

More than 32 million people expected to take trip away from home

May 20, 2010|By Michelle Deal-Zimmerman, The Baltimore Sun

Whether it's by plane, train or automobile, AAA is projecting a sizable 5.4 percent increase in U.S. travelers over Memorial Day weekend, according to the group's national forecast issued Thursday.

AAA expects more than 32 million people to take a trip away from home, with 28 million reaching their destination by driving. Trips by automobile are expected to be more popular than last year, increasing 5.8 percent, as gas prices are not expected to rise above $3 per gallon for the Memorial Day holiday, according to the auto group.

A strengthening economy is likely the catalyst for the increase in travel, a spokeswoman for AAA-Mid-Atlantic said, though average spending while on vacation is expected to decrease. AAA predicted that travelers will be able to take advantage of lower rates for hotels and car rentals. Bargain travel deals combined with an improved economic outlook have boosted bookings, the group said.

"It's more consumer confidence … and a little bit of pent-up demand," said Christine Delise, public affairs specialist for AAA-Mid-Atlantic. "Maybe they didn't take a holiday last year, but now they want to go."

Delise said AAA research shows that travel tends to increase when Memorial Day weekend falls later in the month. Last year, the holiday was May 25, while this year it is May 31.

The number of holiday revelers traveling by air is predicted to grow 2.4 percent over last year, with more than 2 million fliers expected to travel by plane to holiday destinations.

Trips by rail, bus and boat will make up the remaining number of travelers, with 3 million using those modes for Memorial Day vacations.

"AAA travel agents are reporting double-digit increases in the percentage of travelers making advanced bookings for tours and cruises," said Ragina C. Averella, manager of public and government affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic. "Hotel bookings via AAA.com are increasing, and AAA's many travel industry partners have reported improved business conditions this spring."

AAA's forecast, which is based on research by IHS Global Insight, also predicted:

• Sixty-one percent of Americans will spend time with family and friends for the holiday, and 27 percent will travel with children or other family members.

• Average spending will be $809, down from $1,052 last year.

• The average distance traveled will be 626 miles, about the same as in 2009.

• Air passengers will pay an average of $176 per ticket — unchanged from last year.

• Rental car rates will be lower. Weekend daily car rental rates will drop 15 percent to an average of $36.65 from an average of $43.30 in 2009.

•-Hotel rates remain a deal, with travelers planning to stay at AAA Two Diamond hotels paying an average of $99 per night, about 4 percent less than last year.

michelle.deal@baltsun.com

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