Here’s some good news for travelers, bad news for the travel industry: AAA projects fewer people will be on the road and in the sky over the 2013 Thanksgiving weekend thanks to continued economic uncertainty. The automobile association believes that some 43.4 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home over the long weekend, a decrease of 1.5 percent from the 44 million who traveled last year.
“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,” AAA Chief Operation Officer Marshall L. Doney noted. “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 said drivers should be able to find stations selling gas for less than $3.00 per gallon in the vast majority of states. These savings, AAA supposed, could spur travelers to use the money elsewhere in their holiday plans.
“Travelers attempting to carve out a travel budget will be happy to know that Thanksgiving will be the least expensive holiday of the year,” Doney added. As such, the median spending is expected to drop nearly 7 percent to $465, compared to $498 in 2012. By comparison, Americans spent an estimated $805 over Labor Day weekend, $749 over Independence Day and $659 over Memorial Day.
Doney explained that “the primary focus of Thanksgiving, more so than any other holiday, is to gather with friends, family and loved ones and celebrate with each other.”
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AAA defined the Thanksgiving holiday travel period as Wednesday, Nov. 27 to Sunday, Dec. 1. Airfares and hotel rates over that period stayed flat this year, while car rental prices bucked the trend with a 6 percent hike.
Automobile travel remains the dominant mode of transportation, with approximately 90 percent of travelers, or 38.9 million people, planning to travel by car for Thanksgiving. That’s a 1.6 percent decrease over last year, a relatively small figure compared to the 3.7 percent decrease in air travel.
Just 3.14 million holiday travelers plan to take to the sky this year, though the average distance Americans will go for Thanksgiving increased to 601 miles from 588 last year, according to AAA figures.
Nov. 27 will be the single busiest day of travel for both fliers and drivers, with 37 percent of Americans planning to depart the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Conversely, the following Sunday (33 percent) and Monday (24 percent) are expected to be the busiest days on the return leg.
An Alternative Forecast For The Skies
Industry group Airlines for America, or A4A, released a Thanksgiving travel forecast last week that suggested that the number of air travelers would actually increase in 2013. A4A, which looked at a broader 12-day holiday period, said the number of fliers would eclipse the 24.7 million who flew last year by about 31,000 people.
“More seats are returning to the marketplace to accommodate growing demand as carriers are increasing the number of available seats for Thanksgiving travel by roughly 2 percent,” A4A Chief Economist John Heimlich noted in the report. Airplanes are expected to fly at about 85 percent capacity and cart an average of 2.1 million passengers home for the holidays each day over the Thanksgiving travel season.
Busiest Airports This Thanksgiving
Travelers in the Midwest and West Coast will see the largest crowds of any U.S. airports this Thanksgiving, according to data released by travel booking website Orbitz.com. A data analysis of the top 50 U.S. airports revealed that Los Angeles and Chicago O’Hare were expected to be the busiest between Nov. 26 and Dec. 2.
“This year we’ve seen an increase in traffic at traditionally slower airports, with several new airports joining the Busiest Airports list," Jeanenne Tornatore, senior travel editor for Orbitz, noted in the survey. "When traveling for the holidays, jetsetters should prepare for crowds and pack accordingly, with options to keep themselves entertained should there be delays.”
Boston Logan, San Francisco, LaGuardia (New York), Ronald Reagan (Washington, D.C.), Sea-Tac (Seattle), Denver, Newark and Minneapolis-St. Paul rounded out the top 10 on the Orbitz list of the busiest airports for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Busiest Highway Rest Stops This Thanksgiving
Location-based social networking website Foursquare released a list last week of the busiest rest stops in the U.S., based on check-ins between Nov. 20 and Nov. 25, 2012. In the Northeast, the Delaware Welcome Center Travel Plaza, Chesapeake House Travel Plaza (Md.) and South Somerset Service Plaza (Pa.) were the busiest over Thanksgiving weekend.
Down South, it was Buc-ee’s (Texas), the Florida Welcome Center and the South Carolina Welcome Center that clocked the most check-ins on social media. Over in the Midwest, the Ardale W. Ferguson Welcome Center (Mich.), TravelCenters of America (Iowa) and Lake Forest Oasis (Ill.) saw the most visitors, while on the West Coast it was Barstow Station (Calif.), Sunset Point Rest Stop (Ariz.) and Love’s Travel Shop (Calif.).