AAA forecasts that 42.5 million Americans—a 4 percent increase over last year's 40.9 million—will travel 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, marking the first significant increase in holiday travel this year.
Driving AAA's projected increase in the number of Thanksgiving travelers is pent-up demand from Americans who may have foregone holiday travel during the past three years.
"While these numbers do not prove we're on a quick return to pre-recession levels of holiday travel from prior years, they do suggest more Americans are voting family first, not finances, this year," said Dave Carlson, AAA Idaho public affairs director.
Earlier this year, Memorial Day holiday was statistically flat and July 4 and Labor Day travel numbers were down 2.5 percent and 2.4 percent respectively.
AAA's projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight, a Boston-based economic research and consulting firm that works with AAA to jointly analyze travel trends.
Total economic activity, measured as real gross domestic product, is expected to grow by just 1.3 percent for the fourth quarter of 2011 compared to the same time period a year ago. Travel intentions are based on employment, output, household net worth, asset prices and other economic drivers. The model also considers travel variables like gas prices, airfares and hotel room rates, and a travel intentions survey.
Personal income, real disposable income and consumer spending are all forecast above last year's levels. But growth rates of these indicators are weaker than a year ago, and weaker consumer sentiment and consumer comfort surveys note that uncertainty is in the air. Still, a survey of travel intentions suggests that the more sentimental nature of this holiday, compared to others, will sway more to travel.
The complete AAA/IHS Global Insight 2011 Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Forecast can be found at www.newsroom.AAA.com.
Holiday travel by the numbers
Altogether, AAA projects 42.5 million people will travel during the holiday period from Wednesday, Nov. 23, to Sunday, Nov 27.
About 38.2 million, or 90 percent of all holiday travelers, plan to take to the nation's roadways this Thanksgiving holiday weekend, a 4 percent increase compared to Thanksgiving 2010 when auto travelers totaled 36.8 million.
Auto travel remains the preferred choice of transportation for holiday travelers as it is often more affordable, convenient and flexible. The current national average price for regular unleaded gasoline is $3.39 per gallon, 50 cents higher than the $2.89 average price a year ago.
Idaho's average price of $3.50 is 11 cents higher than the national average and 55 cents a gallon more than the $2.95 average price from a year ago.
Air travel is expected to account for 8 percent of holiday travelers, a 1.8 percent increase from a year ago. Fuel costs, combined with steady air travel demand and capacity cuts resulted in raising airfares over the past year. According to AAA's Leisure Travel Index, Thanksgiving airfares are expected to be 20 percent higher than last year with an average lowest round-trip rate of $212 for the top 40 U.S. air routes.
Idaho travel numbers
The travel forecast for Idaho and other Rocky Mountain states will slightly outperform the nation as a whole, with a 4.1 percent increase from a year ago, compared to 4 percent for the U.S. AAA expects that 14 percent of the population will travel at least 50 miles from home during the holiday period. AAA Idaho expects that 200,000 Idahoans will be drivers or passengers in motor vehicles.