AAA expects 39 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the July 4 holiday period, down a slight 2.5 percent from the 40 million travelers during the holiday period a year ago.
"Though we've seen some easing of pump prices in the past six weeks, the impact of higher fuel prices on household disposable income this year is significant enough that it will keep some Americans home," said AAA Idaho spokesman Dave Carlson. "Part of that decrease represents a demographic shift that will impact lower income households more significantly."
Last week, the U.S. average price for regular grade gasoline was $3.63, down 36 cents since May 6, but 90 cents higher than it was a year ago, according to AAA. Idaho's average price is 3.68, down just a dime since May 6, and 78 cents higher than the $2.90 average a year ago.
In 2010, AAA predicted 34.9 million Americans would hit the skyways and byways for the July 4 holiday, but tourism outpaced other parts of the economy, resulting in 40 million actual travelers, a 34 percent increase from the year prior. The result was the highest year-over-year growth rate ever recorded by the travel organization.
IHS Global Insight, the Boston-based economic research and consulting firm that analyzes travel trends and the economic drivers behind them, said this year's projections include some interesting nuances: While auto travel is still the dominant travel mode for 5 of every 6 travelers, a million fewer Americans will hit the road this year. Conversely, air travel should rise, part of a rebound that began in 2010.
AAA said the projections for the July 4 holiday period continue to indicate that this year's higher gas prices are more painful on Americans in lower income brackets since fuel costs make up a larger share of overall spending.
"Still, the report suggests those who plan to travel this year will spend more to get where they're going and more for entertainment, once they arrive," Carlson said.
A survey of intended travelers found that 56 percent said rising gasoline prices would not impact their travel plans. For the remaining 44 percent who said rising prices would impact their travel plans, seven out of 10 will economize in other areas and three out of 10 are planning to take a shorter trip or travel by a different mode of transportation.
Travel by the numbers
Among the 39 million Americans who will travel, AAA says it expects nearly 33 million, or 84 percent, will go by car, down nearly three percent from a year ago. The benefits of convenience and flexibility that a car offers outweigh this year's higher fuel costs for the majority of travelers.