Video: Americans hit the road for Memorial Day

  1. Transcript of: Americans hit the road for Memorial Day

    LESTER HOLT, co-host: Over 30 million people are planning to hit the road this Memorial Day weekend . What will they face before getting behind the wheel? NBC 's Ron Allen is on New York 's Jones Beach . Ron , good morning.

    RON ALLEN reporting: Good morning, Lester . It's a little chilly out here and a bit cloudy this morning, but it's supposed to be a pretty nice day eventually; and that's perhaps a pretty good metaphor for how most of the country is approaching this holiday weekend. For the first time in years, people are feeling better about the economy, so, no surprise, holiday travel is up. America is hitting the road this holiday weekend, 32 million travelers, up 5 1/2 percent, 87 percent of them in their cars, with an early summer holiday break back in more family budgets.

    Ms. LINDA BETHEIL (Traveler): We didn't go anywhere last year, so -- we went local last year, to the beaches here.

    ALLEN: Throw in another bonus: falling gas prices , which may creep down even further this summer. And it all adds up to, that's right, traffic, the stop-and-go snail's pace beginning with folks sneaking off work early on Friday.

    Unidentified Woman #1: There's the scene right there on Interstate 76 in Philadelphia , where you can see there's a little bit of traffic starting to build.

    ALLEN: Even though fuel prices are down, you're not going to find many bargains in the sky. Basic airfares are pretty much unchanged from last year. So is availability. And this summer, the five major carriers are tacking on a summer surcharge, about $30 every summer day except the Fourth of July , one of summer's least traveled days.

    Unidentified Woman #2: I think anytime you start hitting the summer travel season, they're going to jack up the prices basically.

    ALLEN: Not surprisingly, just about everyone is looking to spend less this weekend, the average for a family expected to be down by a couple hundred dollars to about $800.

    Mr. TROY GREEN (AAA National Spokesman): As more budget travelers are coming back into the travel environment, they are not going to be spending as much money as those who traveled last year.

    ALLEN: And as for the weather, that depends on where you are.

    CHRIS WARREN reporting: The spots that I think are going to be a slam dunk for the good weather will be the Southwest ; bad weather , looks like the Southeast . Everywhere else it's going to be a little bit of a mix over the three days.

    ALLEN: We're going to get that mixed weather here in the Northeast . There are some showers in the forecast, but the sun is poking through. So, again, hopefully it's going to be a nice day out here. The calendar should help this Memorial Day as well. It's the 31st of May, as late in May as possible. Last year, it was the 26th, so hopefully that'll help things feel more like the

updated 5/29/2010 12:06:08 PM ET 2010-05-29T16:06:08

Americans aren't in the mood to spend much on travel this summer.

More people are expected to hit the road than did last year, but their budgets will be tighter because of high unemployment, stock markets in retreat and a still-fragile economy.

Auto club AAA says about 32.1 million Americans will travel over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, a 5.4 percent increase over last year.

AAA estimates families will spend an average of $809 on summer travel, compared with $876 in 2009, even though flying is more expensive than it was a year ago.

They're knocking down the cost, travel agents say, by staying closer to home, choosing less-expensive modes of transportation or by picking destinations based on the best fares and lodging they can find.

In summers past, Dennis Chang and his family visited Disney World or Jamaica. But this year, with his wife recently out of work, the 33-year-old clothing designer from Laurel, Md., says the family is scaling back.

The more likely destination for this summer is Virginia Beach, Va., a four-hour drive away, with sandwiches in the car and hunting for discounted tickets to theme parks along the route.

Debbie Dixson, an airline bag checker from St. Louis, can get cheap tickets to New York or Paris through her job. But the cost of food, lodging and entertainment in a big city would quickly wipe out whatever she saved. So she and her husband will instead drive to Douglas, Mich., to meet their six kids for a week's stay in a cabin along Lake Michigan.

While the economy is recovering, travel has bounced back slowly, says Steve Piraino, senior economist at IHS Global Insight. His firm attributes it to high unemployment, still hovering near 10 percent.

The Commerce Department said Friday that consumer spending was stagnant in April and is at its weakest level in seven months. The savings rate rose last month, showing that more people are holding on to their money in uncertain economic times.

Hotels and resorts are trying to entice people into longer stays with lower rates or discounts at restaurants and spas. As a result, the average room rate is down slightly to about $95, according to travel research firm STR. It was $107 just two years ago.

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In states from Texas to Florida that are threatened by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, resorts are offering free golf and complimentary room nights. Some have promised a full refund if the oil hits popular beaches.

Some theme parks are offering specials on traditionally slower days. At Hersheypark in Pennsylvania, guests who stay three nights or more at can buy a special $89.95 pass good for unlimited trips to the theme park, zoo, botanical garden and museum. A standard one-day pass is $52.95.

The vast majority of Americans drive to their summer vacation spots, and they should get a break at the pump in the weeks ahead. The nationwide average for gas is $2.75 a gallon, and analysts think it could fall as low as $2.65 by July 4.

AAA says about 28 million Americans will take road trips over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, 1.6 million more than last year. About 2.15 million will fly, up slightly from a year ago.

For fliers, finding a deal will be more difficult. During the recession, airlines cut back on the number of planes they fly, and fewer available seats means higher fares. From June through August, domestic airfares are 24 percent higher than last year, averaging $321 per round trip, according to fare-tracking website Bing Travel.

Not everyone is cutting back, of course, particularly young professionals, people with stable jobs and the affluent, according to recent travel surveys. "I usually take a weeklong vacation, but this time I'm gone for two weeks," said lobbying firm employee Debra Saiki of Honolulu, while waiting recently at Boston's South Station to catch an Amtrak train to New York.

If the job market improves, more people will be able to travel, Piraino's firm says. And they'll spend more to do so. But until then, Chang and many others will reluctantly opt for the steering wheel instead of a fold-down tray table.

"We're usually a flying family," he said. "I don't like to drive more than an hour.

Joshua Freed in Minneapolis, Christopher Leonard in St. Louis, Ashley M. Heher in Chicago, Chris Kahn in New York, Travis Reed in Miami and Mark Jewell in Boston contributed to this report.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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