AAA estimates that 63.50 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday, a 1.7 percent increase from last year's 62.42 million travelers.
"Double-digit increases from last year in hotel rates, air fares, and gas prices won't keep Americans from traveling in record numbers over the holidays," said Cheri Cihak, AAA South Dakota spokesperson. "Even with Cancun and New Orleans � two great Christmas getaway spots � still recovering from hurricanes, more than 63 million of us will hit the skies, seas, and highways for the holiday."
Approximately 51.54 million travelers (81 percent of all holiday travelers) expect to go by motor vehicle, a 1.7 percent increase from the 50.68 million who drove a year ago.
Holiday auto travelers will find gas prices nationwide currently averaging $2.18 for a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline � down nearly 90 cents from the records set over Labor Day weekend, but still 31 cents higher than a year ago.
Another 8.75 million (14 percent of holiday travelers) plan to travel by airplane, up 1.6 percent from the 8.61 million that flew over the holidays last year. A projected 3.21 million travelers (5 percent) will go by train, bus, or other mode of transportation, up slightly from 3.13 million a year ago.
"Airports will stay busy over the next three weeks or so as Americans visit family, escape to tropical islands, head for cruise ships, and hit the ski slopes for the holidays," said Cihak
In addition to highest-ever yuletide pump prices, travelers will face much higher prices for hotels and airfares, according to AAA's Leisure Travel Index. Holiday hotel rates are up 14 percent for AAA-rated Three Diamond hotels, as strong demand allows hoteliers to raise rates to near their Christmas 2001 peak. Airfares are up 11 percent from last year, but remain below their peak levels during the 2000 holidays. Rental car rates are down on average about 2 percent from their top prices last Christmas.
"Travelers waiting to make Christmas plans until the last minute are finding much higher rates and fewer options," said Cihak. "Hotel, airline, and car rental reservations made at aaa.com for this holiday period were booked an average of 53 days in advance � nearly double last year's 29-day lead time."
The Southeast is expected to produce the largest number of air travelers with 2.59 million, followed closely by the West with 2.54 million; then the Northeast with 1.68 million; Midwest with 1.06 million; and Great Lakes with 870,000.
Most travelers will avoid the high hotel rates, with 69 percent of holiday travelers expected to stay at a friend or relative's home. Hotels and motels are a distant second at 22 percent, followed by cabin/condo, 4 percent; camper/trailer/RV/tent, 1 percent; other, 1 percent; no overnight stay, 1 percent; and didn't know, 2 percent.
Small towns and rural areas are the expected destination for 37 percent of holiday travelers, followed closely by cities, 35 percent. Oceans and beaches should see 11 percent of travelers, followed by mountain areas, 8 percent; 2 percent for lake areas, 2 percent for state/national parks and 2 percent for theme/amusement parks.
Another 3 percent responded with other and 1 percent didn't know.
Research for Christmas-New Year's holiday travel is based on a national telephone survey of nearly 1,400 adults by the Travel Industry Association of America, which conducts special research for AAA.
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