AAA predicts a 5 percent increase in Memorial Day travel

AAA projects a surprising 5.3 percent increase in the number of Oklahomans who will hit the highway over the long Memorial Day holiday weekend this year compared to last year.

“Gas prices have been rising lately but they’re still more than $1 below where they were one year ago,” said Chuck Mai, spokesman for AAA Oklahoma. “Cheaper fuel is helping coax more Oklahomans off their couches and into their cars – in fact, we’re saying we should see the highest number of state and U.S. travelers for Memorial Day weekend in ten years.”

Overall, AAA predicts 649,000 Oklahomans will travel 50 miles from home over the holiday, 4.5 percent more than last year. Air travel will be up 2.4 percent and auto travel up by 5.3 percent. However, travel by other means (rail, boat, bus or inter-modal) will decline by 3.6 percent.

Nationwide, AAA expects 37.2 million Americans will journey from home over Memorial Day, a 4.7 percent increase from the 35.5 million people who traveled last year. Kicking off the summer driving season, 33 million travelers will be driving to their destinations. AAA defines this year’s Memorial Day holiday travel period as running from May 21 to May 25.

Other parts of AAA’s forecast:

Most drivers will likely pay the lowest Memorial Day gas prices in at least five years. Today’s Oklahoma average price for self-serve regular gas is $2.42, $1 lower than the average price for Memorial Day last year. The nationwide average today is $2.66, $1.01 below the average one year ago.

The 4.7 percent increase over Memorial Day 2014 is the highest forecast growth rate for any of the holidays tracked by AAA since Independence Day 2012.

More than 88 percent of travelers (33 million) will travel by automobile, an increase of 5.3 percent over last Memorial Day.

Holiday air travel is expected to increase 2.5 percent to 2.6 million leisure travelers.

Travel by other modes of transportation including cruises, trains and buses, is expected to decrease 3.6 percent this Memorial Day, to 1.64 million.

Travelers will encounter higher average daily car rental and lodging costs this year, while airfares are down slightly compared to Memorial Day 2014.

“Many of us are more than ready to break out the shorts and flip flops and make plans to start the summer season with a vacation getaway,” said Mai. “It’s apparent from what our travel counselors tell us that folks are coming out of hibernation ready and willing to explore state and national parks and lake and beach destinations, as well as America’s vibrant cities and pastoral rural areas.”

A number of economic factors are contributing to the large increase in holiday travelers this year. A strong employment market and low gas prices have driven consumer optimism to new highs and boosted Americans’ disposable income.

AAA expects to rescue nearly 350,000 motorists at the roadside this Memorial Day weekend, with the primary reasons being dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts. Motorists need to be sure to inspect their vehicles and check battery and tire condition before heading out on the road.

AAA’s advice is to drive refreshed, plan plenty of breaks along the way, and always wear a seat belt and make sure all passengers, including children, are buckled in. Limit distractions and never text and drive. Oklahoma’s law banning texting by drivers doesn’t kick in until Nov. 1 but you can avoid the rush by putting the phone down now.

According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, the average daily car rental rate this Memorial Day is $19 higher than last year. The average nightly stay in a AAA Two Diamond-rated hotel is 16 percent higher this year at $144, while Three Diamond hotel rooms are running seven percent more, averaging $182. Average airfares for the top 40 domestic flight routes are two percent cheaper this year, falling to $222.

For more information, go to AAA.com/mobile.