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Holiday travel predicted to break records this year

December 22, 2018

La PORTE – If you’re heading over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house – or flying to Florida for a sunny break – over the long holiday weekend, you’re not alone.

AAA forecasts more than one-third of Americans will travel this holiday season, with a record-breaking 112.5 million travelers taking to the roads, runways and rails for the year-end holidays. That’s a 4.4 percent increase over last year and the most since AAA has tracking holiday travel in 2001.

For the more than 102 million who will pack up their cars for a road trip, INRIX, a global mobility analytics company, predicts travel times in the most congested cities – including Chicago – could be as much as four times longer than normal.

In Indiana, 2.5 million people are expected to travel, up 4.1 percent from 2017. Of those, 2.3 million are expected to travel by auto (4.1 percent increase) and about 135,000 by air (3.7 percent increase).

While the roads will be congested, those drivers will enjoy some low gas prives. In Indiana, prices are averaging $2.25 per gallon, down from $2.51 a month ago and $2.47 a year ago. The average price nationally for gas is $2.41.

Average gas prices have seen one of their largest seasonal declines with the national average price of gasoline down 53 cents per gallon over the last two months and Christmas gas prices now lower than their year-ago level, according to GasBuddy. It projects the national average to drop to $2.35 per gallon by Christmas Day.

The recent drop to the cheapest national gas price averages of the year, combined with rising disposable income, is motivating more Americans to hit the road this holiday season, AAA says.

“’Tis the season for holiday travel, and more Americans than ever will journey to spend time with friends and family or choose to take a vacation,” said Beth Mosher, director of public affairs for AAA.

“Strong economic growth fueled by robust consumer spending continues to drive strong demand for seasonal travel. With a record-breaking one-third of the country choosing to travel this holiday, roadways and airports are sure to be busy.”

The year-end holiday travel period is defined as Saturday, Dec. 22, through Tuesday, Jan. 1. The 11-day span is one day longer than last year, due to Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on Tuesdays.

While gas will be cheaper, holiday road trippers should budget more for rental cars. Daily rates for rentals have increased 3 percent over last year. At $76, the daily average car rental rate this holiday season is the most expensive in 10 years.

Travelers will also pay a bit more at AAA Two Diamond hotels, where prices are 1 percent more than last year, or $122 per night. Conversely, the average rate for AAA Three Diamond hotels has fallen 3 percent to an average nightly cost of $152.

Not everyone wants to drive, of course. And the 6.7 million people who will travel by air this year is the highest level in 15 years and 4.2 percent more than last year. Travel by train, bus and cruise ship will also increase by 4 percent, with a total 3.7 million passengers.

Based on historical and recent travel trends, INRIX expects drivers to experience the greatest amount of congestion before the holiday week – as commuters and holiday travelers mix on roadways. Drivers in Chicago will see travel times more than two times a normal trip.

“With a record-level number of travelers hitting the road this holiday, drivers must be prepared for delays in major metro areas – with Monday, Dec. 24, being Chicago’s worst day to travel,” Mosher said. “Our advice is to avoid traveling during peak commuting hours. If schedules allow, leave bright and early, or after the morning commute.”

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