By: Staff Reports | Gwinnett Citizen
By: Staff Reports | Gwinnett Citizen

AAA Forecasts busiest Memorial Day
travel weekend since recession
Overall travel volume increased 1.5% from last year

AAA Travel projects 36.1 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Memorial Day holiday weekend, a 1.5 percent increase from the 35.5 million people who traveled last year.

Kicking off the summer driving season, more than eight in 10 travelers will drive to their destinations. The Memorial Day holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, May 22 to Monday, May 26.

“A long and unusually harsh winter gave many Americans the travel bug,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman, AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Combine rising temperatures with signs of an improving economy, and travel for the holiday should hit a new post-recession high.”

Although an increased number of people plan to travel during the holiday weekend, more than half (57%) of Memorial Day travelers in the Southeast still need to finalize their travel plans such as hotel reservations, car rentals, and the like, according to a recent AAA Consumer Pulse™ survey.

“Hotel and car rental reservations are filling up fast for Memorial Day," said Jessica Brady, spokeswoman, AAA Travel. "Now is the time to make your Memorial Day travel arrangements to ensure you get what you want for the price that fits your budget."

Highlights from 2014 Memorial Day Travel Forecast include:

•Memorial Day holiday travel volume is expected to reach a new post-recession high with 36.1 million Americans taking a trip

•The 2014 forecast is 2.6 percent higher than the 10-year historical average and the second highest travel volume since 2000 (2005 was the highest)

•Eighty-eight percent of travelers (31.8 million) to travel by automobile, an increase from 31.4 million last year

•Holiday air travel expected to increase from 2.4 percent to 2.6 million leisure travelers

•Travel by other modes of transportation including cruise, trains and buses will see the largest increase, up 6.5 percent (total 1.7 million travelers)

•Travelers will encounter slightly higher prices with airfares 6 percent higher, mid-range hotels up 2 percent and car rentals costing 1 percent more

Improvements in several key economic factors are driving the expectation for more holiday travelers this year. “Consumer spending, disposable income, consumer confidence and the employment outlook are trending up which is welcomed news for the travel industry,” continued Jenkins.

The unforgiving winter was a hindrance to economic growth at the beginning of the year but economic factors influenced by weather, such as car and home sales, appear to be resolving themselves now. Indicative of the unusually harsh winter, AAA experienced an increase of nearly 12 percent in battery related calls this winter.

Impact of gasoline prices on travel plans
AAA expects that most drivers will pay lower gas prices by Memorial Day weekend due to rising supplies. AAA expects holiday gas prices to be relatively similar or even slightly less than last year’s national Memorial Day average of $3.63 per gallon, though unexpected developments such as refinery problems or international events could result in higher costs. "With many plans already made and budgets set, it is unlikely that gas prices will have a significant effect on travel plans compared to a year ago," Jenkins said.

Travel expenses rise modestly
According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to increase just two percent from one year ago with travelers spending an average of $169 per night compared to $166 last year. The average hotel rate for AAA Two Diamond hotels has risen 3 percent with an average cost of $124 per night.

Weekend daily car rental rates will average $44, only 1 percent higher than last year. Airfares are experiencing the largest increase. The average round-trip, discounted fares for the top 40 U.S. routes have increased 6 percent to $227 from $215 last year.

AAA offers digital travel planning resources
AAA’s digital tools for travel planning ‘on the go’ include eTourBook guides for tablets and smartphones, available free to members at http://AAA.com/ebooks. Choose from 101 top North American destinations including city titles, like the award-winning Las Vegas, regions, like Wine Country, and National Parks.

The free AAA Mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android uses GPS navigation to help travelers map a route, find current gas prices and discounts, book a hotel, and access AAA roadside assistance. Members using the iPad version can access interactive Top Destinations travel guides for 10 popular cities. Travelers can learn more at http://AAA.com/mobile.

On http://AAA.com, travelers can find thousands of AAA Approved and Diamond Rated hotels and restaurants using AAA’s TripTik Travel Planner or the searchable Travel Guides at AAA.com/Travel. Every AAA Approved establishment offers the assurance of acceptable cleanliness, comfort and hospitality, and ratings of One to Five Diamonds help travelers find the right match for amenities and services.

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. The complete AAA / IHS Global Insight 2014 Memorial Day Travel Forecast can be found here.

About The Auto Club Group
The Auto Club Group (ACG) is the second largest AAA club in North America. ACG and its affiliates provide membership, travel, insurance and financial services offerings to approximately 8.8 million members across 11 states and two U.S. territories including Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands; most of Illinois and Minnesota; and a portion of Indiana. ACG belongs to the national AAA federation with nearly 54 million members in the United States and Canada and whose mission includes protecting and advancing freedom of mobility and improving traffic safety.