AAA: Fewer travelers expected this Christmas

ATLANTA — Fewer people will travel this Christmas with about 63.9 million Americans going 50 miles or more from home during the Christmas holiday, according to AAA.

That represents 1.4 million fewer travelers — or 2.1 percent — from the 65.3 million people who traveled at least 50 miles last year. According to AAA, this is the first decline in the number of Christmas travelers since 2002; AAA also projected decreases in the number of travelers for the five major travel holidays this year  Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“Without question, the economic downturn of 2008 eroded the discretionary income many Americans would have spent on travel and, for some, altered their travel plans throughout the year,” AAA President and CEO Robert L. Darbelnet said in a news release. “However, those traveling this holiday season can take advantage of declining hotel rates and fuel prices more than a dollar per gallon less than a year ago.”

About 82 percent of all travelers — or more than 52.4 million Americans — plan to drive, which is a 1.2 percent decrease from the 53 million people who drove last year. Concurrently, about 13 percent — or 8.1 million travelers — will likely fly, which is an 8.5 percent decrease from the 8.9 million people who flew last year.

Interestingly, more than 3.33 million Americans will take a train, bus or other mode of transportation, which is a 0.7 percent increase from last year.

Meanwhile, gas prices nationwide continue to decline, and some experts say that gas prices may drop to as low as $1 per gallon.

“Not surprisingly, the oil industry analysts who last week said crude oil ‘may test the $40 level before the end of the year’ have revised that ’40’to a ’30’ believing that the recession may push crude prices considerably lower,” Gregg Laskoski, managing director of public relations for AAA Auto Club South, said in a recent news release. “Generally speaking, for every $10 drop in crude oil’s price per barrel, retail gasoline prices would be expected to fall by 25-cents per gallon. However, many oil industry experts now speculate that retail gasoline could go as low as $1 per gallon in many markets perhaps within a few months.”

While the economy is in limbo, those looking to take a road trip will find it a little less expensive.

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