Growth expected in holiday travel

November 24, 2016 GMT

If you’re going over the river and through the woods to get to grandmother’s house by car today, you probably will pay a bit more for gas than you did last year.

But that isn’t deterring too many travelers, according to the American Automobile Association, whose experts say more people are venturing forth to visit loved ones this year than last.

“One million more Americans than last year will carve out time to visit with friends and family this Thanksgiving,” said Marshall Doney, AAA president and CEO, in a statement. “Most will travel on the tried-and-true holiday road trip.”

In Fort Wayne, gas prices Wednesday averaged $2 a gallon for regular, according to www.gasbuddy.com, a website that tracks fuel prices in real time from information provided by users.

That’s up 28 cents from Thanksgiving week prices in 2015, touted then as the lowest since 2008 – but the good news is that at least two stations were selling at near last year’s prices.

As of noon Wednesday, both Costco and Sam’s Club had gas at $1.74, while some Marathon, Shell, Philips and Sunoco stations had gas in the $1.85 range.

AAA experts predict that 48.7 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home for the holiday – a nearly 2 percent increase from last year and the most Thanksgiving travelers since 2007.

The increase might well be fueled by lower fuel prices. U.S. drivers have saved more than $28 billion so far at the pumps this year compared to the same period last year, according to AAA.

But higher wages, increased consumer spending and confidence have all been tracked, perhaps upping the urge for travel.

According to the Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority, airline passengers are up over last year, both year-to-date and in the month of October. More than 6,000 more passengers left or arrived at the airport this year, and October passengers were up by more than 500.

The day before Thanksgiving is typically the heaviest travel day of the year at the airport, with the Friday after not far behind, airport officials said.

Nationally, air travel is expected to increase 1.6 percent, with 3.69 million Americans flying to their holiday destinations. Airfares, however, are also up, increasing 21 percent this Thanksgiving and averaging $205 for a round-trip flight for the 40 top domestic routes, according to AAA.

Weather also should not hamper travelers much this year, especially those not venturing far from home, said Lonnie Fisher, meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Northern Indiana office outside Syracuse.

Although Wednesday evening was cold, wet and rainy, with temperatures hovering just above freezing, the rain was to move out of the area shortly after midnight, he said, with today’s high, under cloudy skies, in the upper 30s to low 40s.

“Thursday night dips toward freezing again, but by then, the water should be off the roads,” Fisher said.

Friday should bring more of the same, but Saturday and Sunday will bring a slight warming trend, with highs up to the mid-40s and sun, he said.

Chicago’s forecast is similar, Fisher added, noting the chance of frozen precipitation or slick roads increases a bit for travelers going into southern or upper Michigan or parts north and west of the Windy City.

No big storms are foreseen to snarl nationwide air travel, Fisher said.

According to AAA, Thanksgiving lodging rates and car-rental prices are mixed compared with last year’s.

AAA Three-Diamond lodgings are expected to remain flat, with travelers spending an average of $155 per night. The average rate for a Two-Diamond hotel has risen 4 percent, with an average nightly cost of $123.

Daily car rental rates will average $52, 13 percent lower than last Thanksgiving, AAA predicted.