Highest travel volume ever expected during holidays, says AAA

Almost 99 million Americans are expected to travel more than 50 miles during the upcoming Christmas and New Year’s holidays, setting a travel record, according to AAA Southern New England. This includes 4.1 million people in New England.

In its annual national holiday travel survey, AAA predicts 98.6 million folks — a 4% increase compared to this time last year — will drive, fly or take some other mode of transportation to visit friends and relatives from Dec. 23 to Jan. 4.

The figures mark the highest forecasted increase for the year-end holiday season since 2009 and the highest travel volume on record.

By car, plane and train

Of the overall 98.6 million travelers:

— 91%, or 89.5 million travelers, will celebrate the holidays with a road trip, a 4.2% increase for car travel from 2013.

— 6%, or 5.7 million travelers, will fly, which is a 1% increase (this includes one traveler who said he’ll make a round-the-world journey by sleigh on the evening of Dec. 24.

— 3%, or 4.8 million people, will take some other mode of transportation, such as train, bus and ferry.

Calendar plays a role

Lower gas prices, an improving economy, increased consumer confidence and greater disposable income among Americas are all driving travel volume this year.

National gas prices for previous years, with $3.32 being for Jan. 1, 2014. (AAA-provided graphic)

In addition, the calendar is having a positive effect on travelers this year.

Christmas falls on a Thursday, creating a more flexible travel season that’s a day longer than last year and the longest since 2008. As a result, travelers have more options for departures and return trips.

Lower gas prices a plus

Gas prices aren’t deterring holiday travel this year. As of Dec. 22, the national average price was  $2.39 per gallon — the lowest level in five years, and 85 cents lower than this time last year. Gas prices have fallen for 78 days in a row.

In Connecticut, the average price on Dec. 22 was $2.78 per gallon, which is 89 cents lower than one year earlier.

According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, hotel rates for AAA Two and Three Diamond lodgings are up 4% to 5% from last year, while daily car rental rates will average $66 — or 4% more than last year.

Two decades of travel stats

The AAA projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight, a Colorado-based business information provider. The American Automobile Association now has been reporting on holiday travel trends for more than two decades.

AAA Southern New England is a nonprofit auto club with 3.5 million members in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island. It offers travel, insurance, finance, and auto-related services.

— as edited by Brad Durrell