Neither sky-high airfares nor $5-a-gallon gasoline prices will keep Americans from getting away for July Fourth, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA). The auto club is predicting that 47.9 million people will travel over the holiday weekend, including a record 42 million road trippers. That’s slightly more than the 41.4 million Americans who traveled by car over Independence Day weekend in 2019.
Mind you, the AAA’s bar for what qualifies as “travel” is notoriously low: going at least 50 miles from home at any point during the six days spanning June 30 to July 4, with no overnight stay required.
Still, it’s no secret that travel demand is soaring. “The volume of travelers we expect to see over Independence Day is a definite sign that summer travel is kicking into high gear,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel, noting that demand is not tapering off. “People are ready for a break and despite things costing more, they are finding ways to still take that much needed vacation.”
For many Americans planning to travel, gas prices are a chief concern. The national average per gallon on Tuesday morning was $4.97, down a nickel from the high of $5.02 reached last week. Prices at the pump may fall further before the holiday weekend, as President Joe Biden told reporters on Sunday that he is considering a federal gas tax holiday. That would mean another 18-cent drop in gas prices, say officials.
Two-thirds (66%) of Americans now say rising gas prices will impact their decision to travel in the next six months, according the latest survey from the Longwoods International tracking study. But that doesn’t mean people are cancelling their vacations. “So far we haven’t seen the demand to travel abate,” says Amir Eylon, CEO of Longwoods, the travel and tourism market research company that fields the ongoing study.
Instead, says Eylon, travelers are looking for trade-offs and reallocating budgets to keep costs down in other areas. Nearly four in 10 (39%) survey respondents said they’ll choose a destination closer to home, or spend less on retail purchases (34%), entertainment (30%), food and beverages (27%) or lodging (17%).
For those planning on driving over the holiday weekend, AAA booking data suggests that timing can make the difference between clear highways and traffic jams. Friday, July 1 is shaping up to be the busiest day for air travel during the holiday weekend, with Monday, July 4 being the lightest. For those hitting the road, the Thursday and Friday before the holiday are anticipated to be peak traffic days, according to AAA.
Escaping a city? Expect high levels of congestion on the afternoons on Thursday, June 30 and Friday, July 1 as commuters leave work early and mix with holiday travelers. Drivers in major U.S. metros could experience double the travel times compared to a normal trip, says AAA.
“We expect nationwide travel times to increase about 50% compared to normal,” says Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst at INRIX, a location-based data firm. “Drivers around major metro areas must be prepared for significantly more delays. Our advice is to avoid traveling on Thursday and Friday afternoon.”