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2011 Holiday Travel Forecast: More Traveling Despite High Airfares

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Though the economy has not completely turned around, don’t expect the airport and roads to be empty this holiday season. According to a recent AAA’s survey, holiday travel is up 1.4 percent from last year with 91.9 million Americans planning to travel over 50 miles.

The official holiday travel season begins on December 23 and ends on January 3. This year’s increase in travelers shows positive growth and recovery for the travel industry, which is still down from the 93.7 million holiday travelers during the pre-recession 2006 and 2007 years.

Interestingly, 59 percent of those who responded to AAA survey noted either that the economy has had “no impact on their travel plans” or they cited economic improvement. However, 41 percent of those polled did express “an intention to scale back travel plans due to economic concerns,” which is significantly less that the 67 percent of travelers whose plans were impacted last year.

Most people who are traveling over the holidays will be driving. In fact, 83.6 million people are planning to drive. This accounts for a whopping 91 percent of holiday travelers, a 2.1 increase from the previous year. Those travelers will be experiencing a little less pain at the pump with the average price of regular unleaded gas hovering around $3.26 a gallon for the nation. The average gas price has risen 29 cents in the past year, but has gone down from the peak national price of $3.98.

To stay safe on the roads this season, remember to watch out for weather and icy conditions. Ice is more common than you would think, particularly on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads, even if the temperatures are above freezing. With crowded roads, basic driving safety is essential. Keep your distance from other drivers and don’t get distracted with phone calls or text messages.

Only 6 percent of holiday travelers will be at the airport this year. With 5.4 million leisure travelers flying, there is a 9.7 percent decrease in holiday travel from 2010. The air travel numbers are 2 million less than in peak years, marking the seventh lowest travel volume in the past decade.

High airfare is the main cause for the decrease in air travel. Fares are 21 percent higher than they were in the last year due to high jet fuel costs and decreased capacity. The lowest airfare in the top 40 air routes is still $210, which marks the highest year-end fare in the past 5 years.

Are you traveling this holiday season, where are you headed and how do you plan to beat the crowds?

To be a smart traveler this holiday, check out:

By Lily J. Kosner for 

Feature Image Credit: Bigstock


Related links: AAA Newsroom, MSNBC