According to new research by AAA, holiday travel in the U.S. is expected to grow by four percent versus last year as 98.6 million Americans hit the road.
This upward trend marks the highest forecast growth rate for the year-end holiday season since 2009 and the highest travel volume for the holiday period on record. (AAA data dates back to 2001.) The year-end holiday period is defined as Tuesday, December 23 to Sunday, January 4.
Key highlights from AAA's 2014/2015 Year-End Holiday Travel Forecast:
- Holiday travel is expected to total 98.6 million, an increase of four percent from the 94.8 million who traveled last year.
- Travel volume for the year-end holidays will reach the highest peak recorded by AAA (since 2001).
- Nearly 91 percent of all travelers (89.5 million) will celebrate the holidays with a road trip, an increase of 4.2 percent from 2013.
- Air travel is forecast to grow one percent from 2013, with 5.7 million travelers taking to the skies.
- Low gas prices continue to help boost disposable income this holiday season, with today’s national average price of gas at $2.53 per gallon, 70 cents less than a year ago.
“While the economy continues to improve at an uneven pace, it seems more Americans are looking forward with increasing consumer confidence, rather than looking back at the recession," said Marshall L. Doney, AAA president and COO. "This is helping to drive expected travel volumes to the highest level we have seen for the year-end holidays.”
“Lower gas prices are filling stockings with a little more cash to spend on travel this year as travelers are expected to pay the lowest prices since 2009,” said Doney. “Lower prices are increasing disposable income and enabling families to set aside money for travel this year.”
Additionally, the calendar is having a positive effect on the number of travelers expected this year. This year the holidays land on a Thursday, creating a holiday travel season that is one day longer than last year’s and the longest since 2008, offering travelers more options for departures and return trips. This flexibility makes it possible for more people to fit holiday travel into their schedules.
Today’s national average price of gasoline is at the lowest level in five years and 70 cents lower than last year. Gas prices have fallen for 82 days in a row, helping to increase Americans’ disposable income 3.5 percent from year-ago levels, which has had a positive effect on travel.
According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to increase four percent from one year ago with travelers spending an average of $143 per night compared to $138 last year. The average hotel rate for AAA Two Diamond hotels has risen five percent with an average cost of $108 per night. Daily car rental rates will average $66, four percent higher than last year.
Average discounted round-trip airfares across 40 top domestic routes are expected to fall seven percent this year, to $186. This is influenced by the availability of discounted rates from low-cost carriers in several top markets.