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AAA: 41.5M travelers for Memorial Day weekend, a 5% hike despite higher gas prices

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 5/14/2018 Bart Jansen
a person standing in front of a car: Cars line up May 6, 2015, as an attendant pumps gas at a station in Portland, Ore. AAA projects 41.5 million people will travel for the Memorial Day holiday, despite higher gas prices. © Don Ryan, AP Cars line up May 6, 2015, as an attendant pumps gas at a station in Portland, Ore. AAA projects 41.5 million people will travel for the Memorial Day holiday, despite higher gas prices.

More than 41.5 million people will travel for the 2018 Memorial Day weekend, which is 4.8% more than last year, according  AAA travel club. That would be the most travelers since 2005 for the holiday period that this year runs from May 24 through May 28, according to AAA.

Seven out of eight travelers will be driving despite the most expensive gas since 2014. Gas averaged $2.72 per gallon in April, which was 33 cents higher than last year, according to AAA.

“A strong economy and growing consumer confidence are giving Americans all the motivation they need to kick off what we expect to be a busy summer travel season with a Memorial Day getaway,” said Bill Sutherland, senior vice president for AAA Travel and Publishing.

With 2 million more people traveling this year, travel delays could triple along major roads, according to INRIX, a transportation analytics company.

The busiest days will be Thursday and Friday, May 24 and 25, according to INRIX. The worst delays will be in:

♦New York City on May 25 from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., when congestion will be 2.7 times worse than usual.

♦Washington, D.C., on May 24 from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., when congestion will be 2.3 times worse than usual.

♦Chicago on May 25 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., when congestion will be 2.1 times worse than usual.

“Drivers should expect congestion across a greater number of days than in previous years, with the getaway period starting on Wednesday, May 23,” said Graham Cookson, chief economist and head of research at INRIX. “Our advice to drivers is to avoid peak commute times in major cities altogether – traveling late morning or early afternoon – or plan alternative routes.”

While gas prices are higher, AAA projected that airfares are 7% lower this year, for an average $168 round trip on the top 40 domestic routes.

The Transportation Security Administration is bracing for some of the busiest summer travel days ever, with 2.7 million airline passengers projected on the heaviest days. That would rival the record set the Sunday after Thanksgiving 2004.

Based on advance bookings, AAA said the most popular destinations include Alaska cruises beginning in Seattle and Anchorage, and warm-weather spots including Hawaii, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Southern California. AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Markit of London.

Trains, buses and cruise ships will see 2.4% (or 1.8 million) more passengers, according to AAA.

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