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AAA Predicts Drop In Labor Day Weekend Travel

August 26, 2009 By: George Dooley

The lure of a deal and a last-long summer weekend will outweigh economic concerns for many travelers, according to AAA projections of the number of Americans traveling on vacation this Labor Day weekend. The holiday will be heavily impacted with approximately 39.1 million travelers expected to take a trip of 50 miles or more away from home. This is a decrease of 13.3 percent from 2008 when Labor Day travel was the highest this decade— and despite lower air and hotel costs.

"AAA expects this Labor Day holiday weekend to be the third busiest of the decade, even though the number of travelers will be down from one year ago,” said AAA President CEO, Robert L. Darbelnet. “However, with Labor Day falling a week later this year when many children will have returned to school, the decline may have more to do with the calendar than with the economy. Our forecast shows Labor Day travel will be up over this summer’s 4th of July holiday and that’s a positive sign.”

Labor Day fell on September 1 last year, allowing for a long weekend trip before a new school year started in many regions of the country. This year, however, Labor Day is September 7, when the school year has already started for many children, AAA reports.

Last year, 45.1 million Americans traveled during the Labor Day holiday weekend period. Despite this year’s sizeable projected decline of 6 million travelers, AAA said it expects more Americans to travel this holiday than were projected to travel over this year’s 4th of July holiday weekend.

AAA projected 37.1 million Americans would travel during the Independence Day holiday; typically the busiest automobile travel holiday of the year. This will also be the third strongest weekend for Labor Day travel this decade. The second busiest year was 2003 when 41.6 million Americans took a Labor Day weekend trip..

Last Labor Day weekend, the nationwide average price of self-serve, regular gasoline dropped to $3.68 per gallon after peaking at an all-time record of $4.11 per gallon on July 17, AAA said. This combined with the earliness of the holiday and the emergence of end of summer discounts on traveler, caused large numbers of travelers to make a last minute decision to take a holiday trip.

This year, AAA expects the nationwide average price of self-serve, regular gasoline to be approximately one dollar per gallon less expensive than it was one year ago; or about $2.60 per gallon. Continued discounts and deals offered by travel providers will also make Labor Day vacations attractive, AAA said. Travel bargains remain plentiful, AAA says..

Four percent of Holiday vacationers are expected to travel by airline for Labor Day trips, while those traveling by automobile will increase to 84 percent, AAA said. Automobile vacations will be taken by 32.9 million travelers and air trips by only 1.5 million travelers. This will be the lowest number of trips by air this decade for the Labor Day holiday weekend. Those traveling by other modes – which can include trains, cruises, buses, RVs, personal watercraft, motorcycles, or trips that use multiple modes of travel – are expected to account for 4.8 million or 12 percent of Labor Day holiday travelers..

Labor Day travelers expect to spend approximately $968 per household this upcoming holiday weekend. Transportation and accommodations will account for 47 percent of trip spending, while food and beverage will absorb another 22 percent of the holiday budget. Shopping, entertainment and recreation will account for 27 percent of spending on average. “other” spending is 4 percent.

Labor Day travelers will journey an average of 645 miles roundtrip this upcoming holiday weekend. More than one-third (37 percent) of travelers will stay relatively close to home, with expected round trips of 250 miles or less. Slightly more than one-third (34 percent) of weekend travelers will log between 251 and 700 miles. And 28 percent will travel over 700 miles round trip.

Airfare and lodging costs will be lower. According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index - a monitor of pricing in 20 popular cities across the U.S. for hotel and car rentals, as well as 40 pairs of cities for air travel pricing – the lowest average published airfares over the Labor Day holiday weekend are expected to decrease 17 percent from last year as air passengers will pay, for example, as little as $88 for a roundtrip ticket from Detroit to Orlando. From February 2009 through August 2009, the lowest fares have been less than the same timeframe in 2008.

Car rental rates are up seven percent with consumers paying an average of $43 per day compared to $40 a year ago. Rates for AAA Three Diamond and Two Diamond lodgings are expected to be 12 percent less than last year with travelers spending an average of $137 per night for Three Diamond properties. Travelers planning to stay at AAA Two Diamond lodgings will pay an average of $101 per night.  

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