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Memorial Day auto travel to rise 3.4%

U.S. vacationers will travel more this Memorial Day weekend than last year as a recovering economy plays a bigger role in their plans than record gasoline prices, the AAA said Tuesday.
/ Source: Reuters

Shrugging off record gasoline prices at the pumps, U.S. vacationers will travel more this Memorial Day weekend than last year thanks to a recovering economy, the AAA said Tuesday.

Memorial Day weekend, which falls at the end of this month, is the traditional start of the peak summer driving season in the United States.

Some 30.9 million travelers, up 3.4 percent from last year, will drive 50 miles or more by car this Memorial Day, according to an annual survey by the U.S. motorist and travel group. And another 4.1 million plan to travel by plane, up 5.3 percent from last year.

Strong demand and high crude oil prices have pushed average U.S. retail gasoline prices up 52 cents from last year to a record $2.02 per gallon, the government said this week.

But indications of a recovering economy, including stronger job growth in March and April, have spurred travel plans among vacationers.

“This year, travelers have largely ignored some higher costs in their desire to return to their traveling ways,” said AAA vice president Sandra Hughes in a release. Travelers also feel more secure than last Memorial Day, which came weeks after the U.S.-led invasion in Iraq, the survey said.

Some 7.4 million drivers will start their trips in the U.S. West, followed by the Southeast with 6.8 million, the Midwest with 6.6 million and the Northeast with 5.6 million, according to the AAA.

The West is expected to produce the largest number of air travelers with 1.3 million, followed by the Midwest with 1.1 million, the Southeast with 800,000 and the Northeast with 500,000, the motorist group detailed.

About 24 percent of travelers will head to the beaches, 22 percent will travel in the rural areas, and 21 percent will go to the cities.

The AAA, formerly known as the American Automobile Association, conducted the survey of 1,300 adults with the Travel Industry Association of America.