AAA forecasts 93.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the upcoming holidays, a 1.6 percent increase over the 91.8 million people who traveled one year ago.
This year's expected travel volume is the second highest in the past decade. More than one in four Americans are expected to take a trip this season.
"Typically, Americans travel during the holidays regardless of economic conditions or gas prices," said Jim Lehman, AAA East Central executive vice president. "Year-end travel has steadily increased since 2008. The 11-day holiday provides travelers the opportunity to visit family and friends or squeeze in a year-end vacation."
Approximately 83.6 million people, or 91 percent of holiday travelers, plan to take to the nation's roadways this holiday season, a 2.1 percent increase compared to 2010-11 when the number of auto travelers totaled 81.9 million. According to the survey of intended travelers, the average distance traveled by Americans during holiday period is expected to be 760 miles, further than last year when travelers planned to log 726 miles.
AAA estimates the national average price of gasoline will slowly drop through the end of the year. Currently the national average for a gallon of unleaded gasoline is $3.248. Gas prices dropped about 50 cents a gallon on average from September through early December, but remain at record highs for this time of year. AAA does not expect gas prices to have a major impact on travel volume, but consumers could have more money to spend on holiday shopping, dining and entertainment if prices drop through December as expected.
Holiday air travel expected to increase 4.5 percent to 5.6 million travelers from 5.4 million in 2011. Approximately 3.3 million travelers will choose other modes of transportation, including rail, bus and cruise ship.
According to AAA's Leisure Travel Index, year-end hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to increase 2 percent from a year ago, with travelers spending an average of $129 per night compared to $126 last year. Travelers planning to stay at AAA Two Diamond hotels can expect to pay 3 percent more, at an average cost of $95 per night. Daily car rental rates will average $56, compared to $40 last year.
Median spending is expected to be $759, a 6 percent increase compared to the expected median spending of intended holiday travelers - $718 - last year.
Dining, 67 percent, and spending time with family and friends, 66 percent, and are the most popular activities planned by travelers. It is not surprising that during holiday season shopping is the third most popular activity, with 57 percent expecting to shop. More than one-third, or 34 percent, of holiday travelers plan to sight-see during their trips.
AAA's digital travel planning tools include eTourBook guides, the free AAA Mobile app for iPhone, Android and iPad and the website at AAA.com/Travel.
AAA defines the year-end holiday travel season as today to Jan. 1.