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AAA forecasts more Americans will travel this holiday

With cheaper airfare and gradually lowering gas prices, this holiday season is friendlier to travelers than the last one.

Airplane holiday travel 2012 12 13Enlarge
AAA predicts more Americans will travel over 50 miles during the holiday season. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

More travelers will take to the roads and skies this holiday season and spend a little more on travel than a year ago, AAA said in a new forecast released Thursday.

AAA projects 93.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the year-end holiday period defined as Dec. 22 to Jan. 1. That's up 1.6 percent from the 91.8 million people who traveled during the same time last year.

"Primary economic indicators all show modest improvement from last year and AAA is projecting an increase in the number of Americans stuffing their stockings with airline tickets and hotel reservations," said AAA President and CEO Robert Darbelnet, in a prepared statement.

Highlights From AAA's 2012-2013 Year-End Holiday Travel Forecast

  • 90 percent of travelers (84.4 million) will travel by car, representing 26.7 percent of the total US population, or one in four Americans
  • Holiday air travel is forecast to rise 4.5 percent to 5.6 million travelers from 5.4 million in 2011
  • Median spending is expected to increase about 6 percent to $759, compared to $718 in 2011 with transportation costs consuming about 29 cents of every travel dollar.
  • Average distance traveled is expected to increase to 760 miles round-trip from 726 miles

The national average price of gasoline, meanwhile, is forecast to slowly drop through the end of the year and average between $3.20-3.40 a gallon by New Year's Day. While AAA does not expect gas prices to have a major impact on travel volume, fuel-cost savings could mean consumers have more money to spend on holiday shopping, dining and entertainment if prices drop through December as expected.

Airfares Down, Hotel Rates Rise

Those traveling by air will find lower airfares this holiday season, according to AAA. For the year-end holiday period, the average lowest round-trip rate is $203 for the top 40 US air routes, a 3 percent decline from last year's rate of about $209.28.

Hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond properties are expected to increase 2 percent from a year ago — $129 per night compared to $126 last year. AAA Two Diamond hotels will be 3 percent higher, or an average of $95 per night compared to about $92.23 in 2011.

For additional holiday-travel information from AAA, click here.

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