Fewer Oklahomans are expected to travel this Thanksgiving, according to AAA, but the number is still strong: 574,700. Of these, 90 percent (517,200) will drive, a decline of 0.7 percent from last year; and 47,400 will fly, down 2.9 percent.
Nationwide, AAA projects 43.4 million Americans will travel during the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, a decrease of 1.5 percent from the 44 million who traveled last year. This decrease falls just shy of last Thanksgiving's four-year peak since the recession-driven declines in 2008-09 when Thanksgiving travel fell by 25 percent. AAA defines the Thanksgiving holiday period as running from today through Sunday.
Highlights from this year's AAA Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Forecast:
· Median spending is expected to drop nearly seven percent to $465.
· The Thanksgiving holiday is a less expensive holiday for travelers compared to other holidays. This year, Labor Day spending was expected to be $804, Independence Day $749 and Memorial Day $659.
· Hotel and motel rates are little changed from last year, but weekly car rental rates are up six percent.
· At $2.942, self-serve regular gasoline is averaging 20 cents less per gallon in Oklahoma today than a year ago.
· Air travel will decline nationally 3.7 percent to 3.14 million travelers from 3.26 million in 2012
· Average distance traveled is predicted to increase to 601 miles from 588 miles.
· Today will be the busiest single day for travel with 37 percent of travelers departing for trips.
"For those traveling, the good news is motorists will receive a holiday bonus in the form of cheaper gas prices which are at their lowest levels for the holiday since 2010," says AAA Oklahoma spokesman Chuck Mai.
"The primary focus of Thanksgiving, more so than any other holiday, is to gather with friends and family. Travelers attempting to carve out a travel budget will be happy to know that Thanksgiving will be the least expensive holiday of the year."
Impact of gasoline prices on travel plans
Not only is the national average only three cents above its lowest level of the year, AAA predicts it should continue to drop in the weeks ahead. The average price across Oklahoma for regular self-serve gasoline is $2.942, the second lowest of all the 50 states. Only Missouri, at $2.885, has a lower statewide average. In fact, drivers can find stations selling gas for less than $3 per gallon in a majority of states.
Today will be busiest travel day
The Thanksgiving holiday is unusual because it always falls on a Thursday. Many people are off work the Friday after, giving travelers more time to spend with family and friends. Asked which days they would depart for and return from Thanksgiving travel, the highest volumes of travelers plan to leave on trips today (37 percent) and return the following Sunday (33 percent), with another 24 percent expecting to return on Monday or later.
Automobile travel remains dominant mode of transportation, air travel decreases
Approximately 90 percent of travelers or 38.9 million people plan to travel nationwide by automobile this Thanksgiving, a 1.6 percent decrease from last year. Air travel is expected to decrease 3.7 percent as 3.14 million holiday travelers will take to the skies.
For the Thanksgiving holiday, the average lowest round-trip airfare rate is $187 for the top 40 U.S. air routes compared to $188 last year.
Hotel rates relatively flat, car rental rates increase six percent
According to AAA's Leisure Travel Index, Thanksgiving holiday hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to average $142 per night compared to $143 last year. Travelers planning to stay at AAA Two Diamond hotels can expect to pay an average cost of $105 per night, compared to $104 in 2012. Weekend daily car rental rates will average $50; last year they were $47.
Median spending down almost seven percent; visiting family, dining and shopping top activities
Median spending is expected to be $465, a 6.6 percent decrease compared to the expected median spending of intended holiday travelers ($498) in 2012.
While spending time with friends and relatives and dining are primary activities for nearly all holidays, it is even more relevant for Thanksgiving travelers. Therefore it is not surprising that spending time with family and friends (67 percent) and dining (56 percent) are the most popular activities planned by travelers. Despite lower median spending, nearly half of all travelers (44 percent) plan to shop during the holiday which can be expected given Black Friday occurs during the holiday weekend.
For more AAA information, visit AAA.com.