If you’re planning to hit the road this upcoming Memorial Day weekend, you’re not alone. With more money in their pockets thanks to lower gas prices and an improved job market, AAA expects more than 37 million Americans to travel for Memorial Day, that’s the most since 2005.
AAA says that the number of Americans taking a trip of 50 miles or more will rise 4.7 percent to 37.2 million over the period May 21 to May 25. Nearly nine of 10 travelers, or 33 million, will drive to their destination, making for crowded highways.
Gasoline should be around $1 cheaper this Memorial Day, which is a huge difference from a year ago. The average price for a gallon of gas last Friday was $2.66. Last year on the holiday it was $3.66.
Note, though that as of Monday, the national average price of gas has increased for 26 of the previous 27 days, the highest average of the year. Drivers are paying about four cents more per gallon than one week ago and 27 cents more per gallon than one month ago. Regional refinery issues on the West Coast continue to push prices higher in a handful of states, with the majority of the nation’s most expensive markets located in California, Hawaii, Nevada and Alaska.
If you’re taking to the air, it will be crowded, too. AAA says the number of people flying should rise 2.5 percent. A thriving stock market has boosted the net worth of wealthier Americans, who more easily can afford to fly for vacation.
AAA attributes all of this travel to an economy that’s strong enough to give consumers more confidence to travel. Employers added 223,000 jobs in April after a slow start to the year. Last year, job growth averaged 226,000 a month. Although wage growth is sluggish at 2.2 percent, combined with lower gas prices it does give consumers more disposable income.
AAA is suggesting cabin fever may play a role as well. The total number of travelers and the number opting to drive should be the highest since 2005, when 44 million people traveled, 37.3 million of them by car.
“Following a harsh winter, many Americans are trading in their snow boots for flip flops and making plans to start the season with a vacation getaway,” said Marshall L. Doney, AAA’s president, in a statement.
Now while fuel costs may be “fueling” travel plans, lodging costs are actually up. According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, the average nightly stay in a Two Diamond hotel is 16 percent higher this year at $144, while Three Diamond hotels will cost seven percent more, averaging $182.