Here’s some good news for travelers, and bad news for the travel industry this Memorial Day weekend: AAA projects a nearly 1 percent decrease in the number of Americans who will journey more than 50 miles from home. In its annual survey, released Wednesday, the automobile association estimated 34.8 million Americans would take off on vacation over the weekend -- defined as Thursday, May 23 to Monday, May 27 -- compared to 35.1 million last year.
“The primary driver of the decline in holiday travelers is an 8 percent decrease in the number of people expected to take to the skies,” AAA President and CEO Robert L. Darbelnet explained. AAA estimates that 2.3 million people will fly in this year, down from 2.5 million in 2012. “American travelers are experiencing fee fatigue and frustration with everything from higher fares to airport security. As a result, many are choosing road travel in higher numbers due to the lower cost and convenience it offers.”
Roughly 89 percent of travelers, or 31.2 million, will travel by automobile -- up from last year when 31.1 million hit the road. Combined, the 2013 projection for air, car, rail, bus and watercraft is expected to remain slightly above the 12-year historical average of 34.7 million.
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Spending, meanwhile, is predicted to be down in 2013. AAA anticipates a decrease of more than 6 percent to $659, compared to $702 in 2012. Moreover, transportation costs will consume about 28 cents of every travel dollar, despite the fact that gas prices are roughly in line with where they were this time last year. AAA attributes the increase to more Americans traveling longer distances in their cars in 2013.
“AAA is forecasting Memorial Day travel to be slightly lower this year due to an to an up and down economy, the impact of the end of the payroll tax holiday on working families and a 30-year low in the percentage of working age people in the workforce,” Darbelnet said. “Additionally, economic growth in the first quarter was strong, but the impact of the sequester is now beginning to be felt resulting in reduced economic growth expectations. These and other variables are expected to result in few travelers.”
More than half of those surveyed by AAA, or 59 percent, said they planned to visit friends and family over the Memorial Day weekend. Other popular activities included dining, shopping, going to the beach and sightseeing.
In a separate Memorial Day survey, fare-compare travel website Kayak pinpointed the most popular destinations for the holiday weekend, along with the average cost of round-trip airfare. Las Vegas ($301) topped the 2013 list, followed by Chicago ($269), New York ($284), Miami ($341) and San Francisco ($328).
Anyone looking for last-minute hotel deals for Memorial Day Weekend may want to consider the Big Apple or Disney World, according to Kayak. “New York City prices fall in the final week before check-in to 6 percent below average,” a spokesperson explained. “Similarly, hotel rates in Orlando -- another top destination -- begin falling three months from check-in and continue to drop until check-in date. You can save up to 13 percent by waiting to book.”