Low gas prices could boost Memorial Day travel

Posted at 10:56 AM, May 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-19 12:56:26-04

Spurred in part by the lowest U.S. gas prices for this holiday in more than a decade, AAA projects more than 38 million Americans will travel during the Memorial Holiday period, a 1.9 percent increase over last year. 

“This year’s traditional kickoff to the summer travel season is expected to account for the second-highest travel volume for this holiday on record, and the most since 2005, sending an additional 700,000 travelers packing and loading their vehicles for a getaway. The five-day holiday period is defined as Thursday, May 26 to Monday, May 30,” said Idaho AAA spokesman Dave Carlson.

“The great American road trip will make its 2016 appearance due to low gas prices, and it’s safe to say that Americans will attach a traditionally-positive emotion to the arrival of summer,” he added.

AAA Idaho expects nearly 200,000 Idahoans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the holiday, with 176,000 going by car. Both those Idaho numbers are about 5,000 above projected levels a year ago. 

Popular Idaho drive destinations for Memorial Day include McCall, and other resort locations with reservoirs, water and a place to set up a tent or park a recreational vehicle, Carlson said. Destinations where Idahoans can launch a board or run a four-wheeler are always popular, he said. 

Nearly 34 million -- or 89 percent -- of holiday travelers will drive to their Memorial Day destinations, that’s up 2.1 percent from a year ago. Air travel is expected to increase 1.6 percent over last year, with 2.6 million Americans taking to the skies this Memorial Day, experts said. Travel by other modes of transportation -- including cruises, trains and buses -- will fall 2.3 percent to 1.6 million travelers.

Idaho’s average price for regular unleaded gasoline is $2.44, up 29 cents in the past month, and 18 cents above the U.S. average of $2.26. “Despite the recent bumps at the pump, Idaho holiday travelers are paying 37 cents a gallon less than a year ago. The U.S. average mark is 44 cents less than a year ago.  However, AAA said it’s reasonable to assume that prices at the pump may increase somewhat by the time the holiday arrives,” Carlson said.  

AAA’s recent national survey shows that 55 percent of Americans say they are more likely to take a road trip this year due to lower gas prices. The last Memorial Day holiday period when Idaho gas prices were lower was 2009, when the Gem State average was $2.21. 

According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, average airfares for the top 40 domestic flight routes will be 26 percent cheaper this Memorial Day, with an average round-trip ticket costing $165.