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WASHINGTON -- Despite record fuel prices above $3 per gallon, more Americans will travel by car over this Memorial Day holiday weekend than a year ago, according to a survey by travel agency AAA cited by The Associated Press.
In a sign that energy costs will affect behavior, however, AAA said travelers are planning to stay closer to home and take shorter trips. Travel-related expenses for U.S. households are expected to average nearly $600, according to the AP report.
AAA forecasts that 38.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more, an increase of 1.7 percent from last year. Roughly 32.1 million travelers -- or 84 percent of the total --- will drive, up 1.8 percent from last year, AAA said.
The AAA estimate is based on the results of a national survey of 2,000 adults.
The number of Americans traveling by plane is expected to rise by 1 percent to 4.4 million. The remaining travelers will get to their destinations by bus or train.
"High gas prices and increased vacation costs won't deter Americans from traveling this Memorial Day," Sandra Hughes, vice president of travel for AAA, said in a statement. "Families will travel closer to home, they will travel for fewer days and will save money by staying in less expensive hotels and eating in cheaper restaurants, but they will continue to take vacations and plan getaways."
The average retail price of unleaded gasoline nationwide was $3.10 per gallon on Wednesday, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service.
Experts disagree over how high prices have to rise before consumers are shocked into driving less -- at least temporarily. Some say $3.50 per gallon would cause consumers to cut back, while others say $4 per gallon is a more crucial tipping point, the AP reported.
Only during the first week of May, when prices jumped to $3.05 a gallon, did demand for gasoline abate slightly -- by about two-hundredths of a percent, government data shows.