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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Lower gas prices are providing a good incentive for Thanksgiving holiday travel, but AAA predicts that the total number of people journeying 50 miles or more will be slightly down from last year.
According to AAA's Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Forecast, 43.4 million people will travel this year, 1.5 percent less than last year's 44 million. The total number of travelers in 2012 represented a four-year peak since recession-driven declines in 2008-2009, when Thanksgiving weekend travel fell by 25 percent, AAA reported. The Thanksgiving holiday travel period is defined as Wednesday, Nov. 27, to Sunday, Dec. 1.
“While the economy continues to improve, the sluggish pace of the recovery is creating uncertainty in the minds of some consumers and therefore, AAA is projecting a slight decline in the number of Thanksgiving travelers this year,” said AAA Chief Operating Officer Marshall L. Doney. “For those traveling, the good news is motorists will receive a holiday bonus in the form of lower gas prices, which are at their lowest levels for the holiday since 2010.”
AAA predicts the national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline will continue to drop in the weeks ahead, which will allow travelers to use their savings for other expenses. Motorists will also be able to find stations selling gas for less than $3 per gallon in the vast majority of states.
Additionally, about 90 percent of travelers or 38.9 million people, will take to the road this Thanksgiving, a 1.6-percent decrease over the 39.5 million people who traveled by automobile last year. Meanwhile, air travel is expected to decrease 3.7 percent to 3.14 million people during this Thanksgiving holiday.
Other predictions from AAA's report include:
- Median spending will drop nearly 7 percent to $465, compared to $498 last year.
- The Thanksgiving holiday is a less expensive holiday for travelers compared to other holidays. In comparison, Labor Day median spending was projected to be $804, Independence Day $749 and Memorial Day $659.
- Despite lower median spending, 44 percent of travelers plan to shop during the holiday, which can be expected for Black Friday. Spending time with family and friends (67 percent) and dining (56 percent) are the most popular activities planned by travelers.
- The average distance traveled will increase to 601 miles from 588 miles.
- The Wednesday before Thanksgiving will be the busiest single day of travel with 37 percent of travelers departing for trips on Nov. 27.