PORTLAND, Ore. - AAA projected Tuesday that 41 million Americans (12.9 percent of the population) will travel 50 miles or more from home during the Independence Day holiday weekend, a 1.9 percent increase from the 40.3 million people who traveled last year and a nearly 14 percent increase compared to the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
The majority of travelers will be hitting the road, with more than eight in 10 (34.8 million) choosing to travel by automobile, the highest level since 2007. The Independence Day holiday travel period is defined as Wednesday, July 2 to Sunday, July 6.
In the Pacific Region, (AK, CA, HI, OR, WA), Fourth of July travel is expected to increase 1.4 percent, with 6.3 million people or 12.1 percent of the population taking trips.
"The Fourth of July holiday is usually the busiest travel holiday of the summer. The kids are out of school and millions of Americans celebrate that freedom with a holiday getaway," says AAA Oregon/Idaho Public Affairs Director Marie Dodds.
"This year, a willingness to take on credit card debt, not a boost in income, is driving the increase in consumer spending. The improving economy and boost in consumer confidence mean Americans are feeling more comfortable taking on debt."
"Here at AAA Oregon/Idaho, travel bookings are up for the year and we're seeing quite a bit of interest in Independence Day and summer travel. Nearly five million more Americans are expected to travel for the Fourth of July than for Memorial Day just a few weeks ago," says Doreen Loofburrow, Vice President of Travel for AAA Oregon/Idaho.
Impact of rising gas prices
AAA expects the majority of U.S. drivers will likely pay the highest gas prices for this holiday since 2008. The current national average for regular unleaded is $3.67, compared to $3.48 on July 4, 2013. The current Oregon average is $3.98 compared to $3.76 on Independence Day last year.
In recent years, gas prices have declined in the weeks leading up to Independence Day, but this has not occurred this summer due to the higher crude oil costs resulting from violence in Iraq.
With plans already made, it's unlikely higher gas prices will have a significant impact on holiday travel plans.
"Consumers tend to economize in other areas of their vacation budgets when travel costs go up. They may cut back on dining, shopping or other activities," Dodds says.
The current Oregon average is at its highest price of the year and could climb higher. Speculative market reaction to the turmoil in Iraq has had some impact on gas prices, but the availability of plentiful supplies of less expensive crude oil from Canada and North Dakota should mean that regional refineries will produce plenty of gasoline to meet seasonal demand.
"AAA says pump prices could just as easily come down as go up during the remainder of the summer travel season," Dodds adds.
AAA provides the latest gas prices for the nation, states and metro areas at FuelGaugeReport.AAA.com.
Car travel is dominant mode
Approximately 35 million people (85 percent of holiday travelers) plan to drive to their destination, an increase of 2.1 percent compared to last year and the highest volume since 2007.
In the Pacific Region, 5 million (80 percent of holiday travelers) plan to travel by car, an increase of 1.9 percent.
"It's not surprising that the vast majority of travelers will drive to their Independence Day destinations. Driving provides flexibility and is usually less expensive than flying," says Dodds.
Air travel increases, airfares decline
About 3.1 million leisure travelers (7.6 percent of all holiday travelers) will fly to their destinations, an increase of one percent from last year.
In the Pacific Region, 737,000 people are expected to travel by air (11.8 percent of holiday travelers), which is about the same as last year.
Dodds says, "The Pacific region typically sees a higher than average share of its population expected to travel by air, as we are geographically more spread out in this region. This is indeed the case for Independence Day 2014."
Airfares are down 5 percent this year, with an average lowest round-trip rate of $215 for the top 40 U.S. air routes compared to $228 last year, according to AAA's Leisure Travel Index.
The remaining 7.6 percent of holiday travelers nationally are expected to travel by other modes, including rail, bus and watercraft.
Hotel rates go up, rental cars cost the same
According to AAA's Leisure Travel Index, hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to increase nine percent from one year ago with travelers spending an average $178 per night compared to $164 last year. The average hotel rate for AAA Two Diamond hotels are expected to increase 15 percent with an average cost of $137 per night compared to $119 a year ago.
Weekend daily car rental rates will average $58, the same as last year.
Popular Summer Destinations
AAA Oregon/Idaho says Central Oregon, Crater Lake, and the Oregon coast all rank as top regional destinations for July vacations.
Loofburrow says, "Disneyland is an obvious favorite for families. The national parks of the West are perennial family favorites every summer. We're also seeing a bump in international travel this year, especially in European vacations with Italy, France and England as the top three destinations."
AAA offers digital resources
AAA's digital tools for travel planning ‘on the go' include eTourBook guides for 101 top North American destinations, available free to members at AAA.com/ebooks. Choose from city titles, such as the award-winning Las Vegas, and regions, such as Wine Country, and National Parks.
The free AAA Mobile app for iPhone, Android and iPad uses GPS navigation to help travelers map a route, find current gas prices and discounts, book a hotel, and access AAA roadside assistance. Travelers can learn about the AAA Mobile app and AAA Mobile Web at AAA.com/mobile.
On AAA.com, travelers can find thousands of AAA Approved and Diamond Rated hotels and restaurants using AAA's TripTik Travel Planner or the searchable Travel Guides at AAA.com/Travel. Every AAA Approved establishment offers the assurance of acceptable cleanliness, comfort and hospitality, and ratings of One to Five Diamonds help travelers find the right match for amenities and services.
AAA's projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight, based in Colorado. AAA has been reporting on holiday travel trends for more than two decades. The complete AAA / IHS Global Insight 2014 Memorial Day Holiday Travel Forecast can be found at NewsRoom.AAA.com.