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5 Things to Know About Thanksgiving Travel

Wednesday, Nov. 21 will be one of the busiest travel days of the year as Americans hit the road for Thanksgiving weekend.

AAA projects 43.6 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, an increase of 0.7 percent over the 43.3 million people who traveled last year.

This increase marks the fourth consecutive year of growing holiday travelers since 2008, when Thanksgiving travel fell by 25 percent.

The Thanksgiving holiday travel period is defined as Wednesday, Nov. 21 to Sunday, Nov. 25.

1. Gas Prices

AAA estimates the national average price of gasoline will drop to between $3.25-3.40 a gallon by the holiday, similar to last year’s average of $3.32, which was the most expensive average ever on Thanksgiving. Despite the historically high prices paid by motorists this year, the national average has declined by nearly 40 cents a gallon since early October and should continue to drop through the end of the year. The national average price of gas for Thanksgiving from 2007-2011 was $2.75 a gallon.

2. Busiest Travel Day

The Thanksgiving holiday is unique in falling on a Thursday every year. Many people are off from work the Friday after, giving travelers the opportunity to spend more time with family and friends. AAA asked intended travelers which days they would depart for and return from Thanksgiving travel. Among those surveyed, the majority of travelers plan to leave the Wednesday before the holiday (45 percent) and return the following Sunday (36 percent) with another 25 percent expecting to return on Monday, Nov. 26.

3. Mode of Transportation

About 90 percent of travelers or 39.1 million people plan to travel by automobile this Thanksgiving. This is a 0.6 percent increase over the 38.9 million people who traveled by auto last year.  Air travel is expected to decrease 1.7 percent as 3.14 million holiday travelers will take to the skies.

Those traveling by air will find lower airfares, according to AAA’s Leisure travel Index. For the Thanksgiving holiday, the average lowest round-trip rate is $188 for the top 40 U.S. air routes, an 11 percent decrease from last year. Approximately 1.3 million travelers will choose other modes of transportation, including rail, bus and cruise ship.

4. Holiday Hotel Rates

According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, Thanksgiving holiday hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to decrease 1 percent from a year ago, with travelers spending an average of $143 per night compared with $145 last year. Travelers planning to stay at AAA Two Diamond hotels can expect to pay 1 percent more, at an average cost of $104 per night. Weekend daily car rental rates will average $47, compared to $37 last year.

5. Travel Distances Down

According to the survey of intended travelers, the average distance traveled by Americans during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is expected to be 588 miles, which is a decline of 16.7 percent from last year, when travelers planned to log 706 miles.

Here's more from AAA:

  • Thanksgiving travelers to total 43.6 million, an increase of 0.7 percent from the 43.3 million who traveled last year
  • Ninety percent of travelers or 39.1 million to travel by automobile, an increase of 0.6 percent
  • Holiday air travel to decline to 3.14 million travelers from 3.2 million in 2011
  • Median spending expected to drop 10 percent to $498, compared with $554 last year. Spending remains consistent with historic averages as Americans continue to prioritize travel while finding ways to economize
  • Average distance traveled to decline to 588 miles from 706 miles, due in part to a decrease in the number of air travelers and Americans' desire to economize budgets
  • Despite mild improvements in unemployment, the housing market and greater consumer optimism, the economy is still struggling to keep its head above water

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