Holiday Travelers Expected to Spend More, Fly More

Three in ten Americans plan to travel for the holidays this year, with 42 percent of these travelers planning to up their holiday travel budget compared to last year, American Express reports.

While the percentage of Americans planning to travel for the holidays is consistent with 2010, the latest American Express Spending & Saving Tracker indicates a significant increase in what these consumers will spend. The average family of four intends to shell out $2,636 on holiday travel, or $659 per person, an increase of nearly $200 from last year.

Significantly more travelers will take to the skies this year, as just over one third (36 percent) will fly to their destination (vs. 26 percent last year). More consumers also plan to dine out (31 percent vs. 20 percent in 2010) and take part in entertainment focused activities (24 percent vs. 20 percent in 2010). Additional reasons for spending more include:
    •    Taking a longer trip -- 21 percent
    •    Staying in better accommodations -- 19 percent
    •    Traveling with more people -- 17 percent
    •    Choosing a more expensive destination -- 12 percent
    •    Flying first class or business class -- 6 percent

"Americans will spend on travel this holiday season whether they are visiting family or taking that big trip they've waited for all year," said Claire Bennett, senior vice president and general manager of American Express Travel. "No matter where consumers choose to go, there is a clear interest in getting more out of travel. From dining to adventure, it's all about making memories."

A growing number of consumers expressed interest in doing more while they're away this holiday season. When asked how they would spend an extra $500 if it were available, nearly one quarter (24 percent) of consumers said they would rather use the extra funds for new experience than to extend the length of their stay (18 percent).

When asked which travel experiences they would be most interested in trying, consumers ranked outdoor adventure first (19 percent), followed by a mystery vacation (16 percent), culinary-focused experience (13 percent), holistic spa retreat (12 percent), volunteerism trip (5 percent) and a ski holiday (4 percent).

Even though consumers expressed a desire to have more unique travel experiences, budget (40 percent) still trumped all as the key decision making factor when making holiday travel plans. Destination (25 percent) and experience (11 percent) came in second and third.

The majority of consumers will pay for travel with credit or charge cards, and twenty-six percent of travelers are turning to rewards points or miles as a primary way to pay for all or part of their trip. Fifty-six percent of Americans do not plan to travel this holiday season, significantly down from 61 percent in 2010.

On average, Americans are early birds when it comes to booking holiday travel, with most booking their holiday travel three months in advance. But not all travelers have the "book ahead" mentality: 21 percent will book less than a month before their trip, with the vast majority of late bookers (73 percent) waiting until one week or less before holiday vacation. Late-bookers are also more likely to purchase using online travel engines and drive to their destinations.

Americans plan to travel with an average of three people for the holidays and many will take an average of two trips between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve.

Consumers are looking to travel experiences as a source for creative gift giving this holiday season. More than one in four consumers have received and given a vacation as a gift. Many Affluents and Young Professionals similarly have given a vacation as a gift (41 percent and 38 percent, respectively).

The American Express Spending & Saving Tracker research was completed online among a random sample of 2,017 adults, including the general U.S. population, as well as two sub-groups -- the Affluents and Young Professionals.

American Express defines Affluents as having a minimum annual household income of $100,000. Young Professionals are  defined as less than 30 years of age, having a college degree and a minimum household income of $50,000.

Interviewing was conducted by Echo Research between September 28 and October 2, 2011. Overall, the results have a margin of error of +/- 2.2 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence. 


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