AAA Projects a 1.2 Percent Increase in Memorial Day Travel as Americans Stay Closer to Home

Average travel distance decreases significantly as holiday travelers economize by decreasing entertainment costs

May 15, 2012, 10:29 ET from AAA Chicago

AURORA, Ill., May 15, 2012­ /PRNewswire/ -- AAA projects 34.8 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the Memorial Day holiday weekend, an increase of 1.2 percent – or 500,000 travelers – from the 34.3 million people who traveled one year ago. The Memorial Day holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, May 24 to Monday, May 28.


In Illinois, 1.8 million people will be traveling for the holiday weekend, which is a .8 percent increase over 2011. Of those travelers, just over 1.6 million will be driving (a .7 percent increase from 2011) and just under 97,000 will be flying to their destination (a 6.1 percent decrease from 2011). There will be 79,000 travelers who will be traveling via other modes of transportation, which is a 12.6 percent increase from 2011. Gas prices across Illinois are on average $3.91, down from $4.27 in 2011.

In Indiana, just over 770,000 people are expected to travel, which is a 1.2 percent increase over 2011. Of those, 695,000 are expected to travel by auto (1.1 percent increase) and about 41,000 by air (5.7 percent decrease). There will be 34,000 people traveling by other modes of transportation, a 13.1 percent increase over 2011. In Indiana, gas prices are on average $3.71 per gallon, down from $4.12 this time last year. The average price nationally for gas is $3.73.

"The overall domestic economic picture continues to improve slightly, however, American consumers faced a new challenge this year as steadily increasing gas prices throughout the spring significantly squeezed many household budgets," said Brad Roeber, AAA Chicago Regional President. "Americans will still travel during the Memorial Day holiday weekend but, many will compensate for reduced travel budgets by staying closer to home and cutting entertainment dollars." 

Automobile adds to dominance as lead transportation choice, up 1.2 percent
Approximately 30.7 million people plan to drive to their destination, an increase of 1.2 percent from the 30.3 million who drove last year.  Almost nine out of ten holiday travelers (88 percent) will take to the nation's roadways during the Memorial Day weekend keeping automobile travel in the traditional lead as the dominate mode of holiday travel transportation. 

Impact of gasoline prices on travel plans
A survey of intended travelers found that 53 percent said recent increases in gasoline prices would not impact their Memorial Day holiday travel plans. Of the remaining 47 percent of travelers who said gas prices would impact their travel plans, nine percent are planning to take a shorter trip, four percent will travel by an alternate mode of transportation and 34 percent will economize in other areas. Those who intend to economize in other areas plan to reduce spending on entertainment (65 percent), stay at a lower priced hotel (34 percent), stay with friends and relatives instead of reserving a hotel room (31 percent) or stay in a hotel that includes value-added amenities like free breakfast and internet (27 percent). 

Number of air travelers expected to decline by 5.5 percent
More than 2.5 million leisure air travelers (over seven percent of holiday travelers) will fly during the holiday weekend, a 5.5 percent decrease from last year's 2.7 million air travelers. The remaining 4.5 percent of holiday travelers are expected to travel by other modes, including rail, bus and watercraft. 

Average travel distance significantly less than last year
According to a survey of traveler intentions, the average distance traveled by Americans during the Memorial Day holiday weekend is expected to be 642 miles, which is 150 miles less than last year's average travel distance of 792 miles. With high gas prices squeezing consumers' spending power this spring, consumers are responding by traveling shorter distances this Memorial Day holiday. 

The decline in expected air travel is a factor in the travel distance decrease as fewer flying miles can be contrasted with the slight growth in automobile travel. Miles flown for weekend travel are typically longer than those driven. Last year, the shortest trips, those less than 150 miles, made up 19 percent of total travel compared to 21 percent this year, reinforcing the expectation that shorter trips are especially popular this Memorial Day weekend. Median spending is expected to be $702, only slightly more than the $692 median spending last year. 

Airfares and car rental rates drop, hotel rates rise
According to AAA's Leisure Travel Index, Memorial Day holiday airfares are expected to be seven percent lower than last year with an average lowest round-trip rate of $189 for the top 40 U.S. air routes. Low cost carriers such as Spirit and Frontier contributed to the average cost decline with airfares for five of the top 40 routes declining by more than 40 percent. Hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to increase eight percent from a year ago with travelers spending an average of $160 per night compared to $148 last year. Travelers planning to stay at AAA Two Diamond hotels can expect to pay 10 percent more with an average cost of $120 per night. Weekend daily car rental rates will average $36, four percent ($2) less than last year.

AAA's projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight. The Boston-based economic research and consulting firm teamed with AAA in 2009 to jointly analyze travel trends during the major holidays. AAA has been reporting on holiday travel trends for more than two decades. The complete AAA / IHS Global Insight 2012 Memorial Day Holiday Travel Forecast can be found at