Video: Hitting the road this holiday? Expect delays

  1. Transcript of: Hitting the road this holiday? Expect delays

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: There's a lot of traffic on the roads and at the airports this morning, as 35 million Americans set out for their Fourth of July destinations. NBC 's Kevin Tibbles is alone -- along, I'm sorry, one of those crowded highways in Chicago . Kevin , good morning. What is going on on the roads this morning?

    KEVIN TIBBLES reporting: Well, I am alone, sort of, but I've got a lot of company on the I-90 just behind me here as they are off for the Fourth of July weekend, and they got a very early start. You know, 90 percent of that 35 million, Meredith , that you just referred to, are going to be traveling by automobile. In spite of the conversation with Maria that we just heard, a lot of people are sensing a little bit of economic recovery. These people have essentially been hiding under their beds for the last two years of recession, and a lot of them have simply said, you know, to heck with it. `We've got to start enjoying our lives. We're going to go see Grandma for the Fourth of July .' And that's what's -- that's what 's happening, and they've already been hitting the roads here outside Chicago from very early hours this morning, Meredith .

    VIEIRA: Yeah, and they don't seem too concerned that gas prices are actually up.

    TIBBLES: Well, if you just look back a couple of years, you know, it was only two years ago that the price of a gallon of gas was over $4. Now, that's enough to make you leave the car in the garage. This year, as of last year and perhaps because of the recession, they have dropped. They remain stable. They're around 2.73, 2.75. Here in Chicago , which always seems to have the highest gas prices . It's around $2.90. But the bottom line is is that people seem to be starting to travel again, and that has to be good news for the economic recovery. What's the number one location according to Chicago , of course. But, Meredith , if you're going to come, can you give me a shout so I can get some more hot dogs?

    VIEIRA: Well, I never knew you were such a draw, Kevin Tibbles . Thanks so much. It is 7:07. With more, here's Matt.

    MATT LAUER, co-host: And if you show up, he better stock up on the beer as well.

    VIEIRA: Oh, jeez.

    MATT LAUER, co-host: While most people will travel by car, air travel also expected to increase this Fourth of July weekend. NBC 's Tom Costello is in Washington's Reagan National Airport . Tom , good morning to you.

    TOM COSTELLO reporting: Hey, Matt , good morning to you. Yeah, you know, we have a beautiful day in DC today, unheard of for July, what is it, 2nd? We've got low humidity today and 80 degrees, and really good weather across the country, good flying weather. Take a look at the FAA status map. We go to this map to get a sense of what the airports are looking like nationwide. We've got green on the map across the country. That means no significant delays. You heard Kevin talk about the national driving numbers. Driving really is the dominant mode of transportation over the holiday. But take a look at what we are expecting from AAA in terms of air travel . One and a half million people, they say, are going to be traveling by air. That's up more than 8 percent from a year ago. But keep in mind that a year ago we were deep, deep in the great recession and most folks stayed close to home. As for the airfares, travelers are paying right now about 13 percent more than they did a year ago. The lowest average roundtrip fare right now is looking like 192 per ticket, that's the lowest. And once you get to your destination weekend rental care rates are going for about 54 bucks a day. Meanwhile, three-star hotels nationwide, three-star, averaging about $143 a night -- a night. That's up from $137 a year ago. And airlines will tell you that they are still struggling to eke out a profit, so they have fewer planes in the system. That means when you do travel, there are very few seats left if you're unlucky enough to get on one of those last-minute flights. I just booked for next week -- you know, the company wants me to fly to Miami -- and there are like two or three seats left. So the NBC accountant is not going to be happy when they get the bill for this one. Back to you guys.

    VIEIRA: I guess he's not getting the corporate jet, that's apparent.

    MATT LAUER, co-host: I think he was just -- he was just pleading his case on national TV , I think. news services
updated 7/2/2010 11:00:26 AM ET 2010-07-02T15:00:26

It's as American as apple pie — every year, millions of Americans hit the roads and airports for an early jump on their July 4 weekend.

The number of Americans expected to travel this holiday weekend is up more than 17 percent compared with last year's levels, according to AAA predictions. The jump is due to optimism about the state of the U.S. economy, the travel and auto group said.

About 34.9 million travelers will take a trip at least 50 miles away from home, up sharply from 29.8 million last year, AAA said.

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The number of Americans traveling by car is expected to jump 17.7 percent, while the number traveling by air is expected to increase 8.2 percent.

"While financial markets continue to have volatility related to the European debt crisis, the landscape of the U.S. economy is in a much different place than it was one year ago," said Glen MacDonell, director of AAA Travel Services.

Last year, on the U.S. Independence Day holiday weekend travel tumbled 21.2 percent from 2008 levels as the recession depressed travel. AAA defines the Fourth of July holiday travel period this year as July 1-5.

The national price of gasoline sits at $2.76 a gallon, according to the national Lundberg Survey of fuel prices, released Sunday. The level is up from an average of $2.64 last year, but considerably lower than the $4.04 average in 2008.

At $2.80 per gallon, a typical motorist using about 50 gallons of fuel per month will spend about $140. AAA has said higher gas prices don't keep people from driving until they approach the $3 per gallon level — a sort of psychological barrier.

Air fares are expected to increase 13 percent from last year, but will still remain below the average two years ago.

Car rental rates will increase 4 percent to an average of $54 per day.

Travel will likely increase across the United States this year, even in the Gulf Coast region, where there has been some concern that the BP oil leak will keep tourists away.

However, the South Atlantic will likely not experience the same amount of growth as elsewhere in the nation due to the spill, AAA said.

Despite the increase in travel, AAA reported that the median spending is estimated to be $644 per household, nearly $50 less than last year.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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