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Higher Gas Prices Won't Slow Down Holiday Travel

By Daniel B. Kline - Updated Dec 20, 2017 at 5:02PM

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Expect record numbers of people to hit the road between Dec. 23 and Jan. 1.

It will cost more to fill up your tank than it did last year, but that's not going to deter a record number of Americans from traveling this holiday season, with the vast majority going by automobile.

A record 107.3 million Americans will travel via planes, trains, automobiles, and other modes of transportation between Dec. 23 and Jan. 1, according to AAA. That's a 3.1% increase over last year and a more than 25% increase since 2005.

A highway is shown full of cars.

Most holiday travel will be via automobile. Image source: Getty Images.

How will people travel?

The vast majority of American travelers will take to the roads in their automobiles. Of the 107.3 million people traveling during the holiday season, 97.4 million will be using their cars, SUVs, and other vehicles, a 3% increase over last year. Only 6.4 million will fly, a 4.1% year-over-year increase, while 3.6 million will takes trains, buses, or cruise ships, a 2.2% increase.

These increases in travel come at a time when gas prices will be at their highest point at the end of the year since 2014. The December national average price for a gallon of gas through Dec. 13 came in at $2.47, $0.28 higher than during the same period last year.

"More expensive gas prices are not swaying holiday revelers to stay home," said AAA Senior Vice President Bill Sutherland in a press release. "In fact, across the board this year, travel has increased year-over-year for every major holiday weekend -- Memorial Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving -- and we project the same for the year-end holiday period."

There is some good news for consumers who will be gassing up for holiday travel. Pump prices have fallen by a few cents and AAA expects them to drop by at least another $0.05 before the year ends.

Not all prices are up

There is some good news for travelers. Holiday airfares are nearly 20% cheaper than they were last year with round-trip flights for the top 40 domestic routes at a five-year low, according to AAA. In addition, prices have fallen by 2% at AAA three Diamond-rated hotels while they have dropped by 4% at two Diamond hotels. Car rentals, however, are 11% more expensive on average, setting a five-year record high.

Use common sense

If you have to travel during the busiest times, plan ahead. That means expect traffic and plan on getting to the airport earlier than you normally would. Getting anywhere is going to take longer and it's important to budget the needed time into your schedule.

If you're driving, try to avoid the afternoon of Christmas Eve or the morning of Christmas Day. In addition, the late afternoons on the work days leading up to Christmas are expected to have heavy traffic in areas in and around cities due to travelers mixing with people on their normal commute.

In general, leaving early in the morning or after dinner gives you the best chance of avoiding the worst of the holiday traffic. In all cases, however, expect delays, and be prepared to have your patience tested.

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