Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer, and Americans will kick off the season by traveling in near-record numbers.
According to AAA, more than 41.5 million Americans will travel this Memorial Day weekend, nearly 5 percent more than last year and the most in more than a dozen years.
With nearly two million additional people taking to planes, trains, automobiles and other modes of transportation, INRIX, a global transportation analytics company, expects travel delays on major roads could be more than three times longer than normal, with the busiest days being Thursday and Friday (May 24-25) as commuters mix with holiday travelers.
“Following a long winter, Americans are excited to kick off the summer travel season and have fun with family and friends,” said Jim Lehman, president of AAA East Central. “Although gas prices are on the rise, a strong economy will keep demand high for the holiday weekend.”
The Memorial Day holiday travel period is defined as May 24-28:
• Memorial Day travelers will total 6.6 million, an increase of 4.4 percent 2017.
• Six million will travel by automobile, up 4.5 percent from 2017.
• 363,000 people will fly to their destinations, up 5.1 percent from 2017.
• 276,000 people will use other modes (bus, train, boat, etc.), up 2.2 percent from 2017.
Worst times to travel
For the 36.6 million Americans traveling by automobile nationwide, INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts drivers will experience the greatest amount of congestion on Thursday, May 24 and Friday, May 25 – in the late afternoon as commuters leave work early and mix with holiday travelers.
Several major U.S. metros could experience double the travel times compared to a normal trip, while New Yorkers could see three times the delay.
Higher gas prices
The 88 percent of travelers choosing to drive will pay the most expensive Memorial Day gas prices since 2014.
Gas prices averaged $2.72 in April, an increase of 33 cents from last year, due to expensive crude oil, record gasoline demand and shrinking global supply.
However, these higher prices are not keeping holiday travelers home, with automobile travel expected to increase for the fourth straight year, by nearly 5 percent nationwide over last Memorial Day.
Lower hotel, car rental costs
While road trippers will pay higher prices at the gas pump this year, travelers can expect some relief in their wallets when paying for, car rentals and most mid-range hotels. At $59, the average daily cost of a car rental this Memorial Day is the lowest rate in the past four years and 11 percent cheaper than last year.
Travelers will also save on AAA Three Diamond hotels this Memorial Day, which are trending 14 percent less expensive than last year, with an average rate of $186 nightly. Meanwhile, AAA Two Diamond hotels are 7 percent more expensive than last Memorial Day, with an average nightly cost of $151.
Orlando again tops this year’s list of the most-visited Memorial Day destinations in the U.S., based on AAA advance national travel bookings. Cruises to Alaska, originating in Seattle and Anchorage, as well as warm-weather destinations in Hawaii, Las Vegas, Phoenix and southern California top travelers’ domestic itineraries this summer.
For those planning to kick off their summers with an overseas vacation, Europe is a major draw this year. Rome, Dublin and London are the most popular international travel destinations for Memorial Day weekend.
According to Hertz, a 40-year AAA partner, the busiest airport pick-up locations for travelers renting a car this Memorial Day are expected to be Orlando (MCO), Las Vegas (LAS), Atlanta (ATL), Los Angeles (LAX) and Kahului, HI (OGG).
The busiest day for rental pick-ups is expected to be May 25, with an average rental length of nearly six days, as travelers look to take advantage of the long holiday weekend.
To motorists’ rescue
AAA expects to rescue more than 340,000 motorists at the roadside this Memorial Day weekend. Dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires will be the leading reasons AAA members will experience car trouble.
Before hitting the road, make sure your vehicle is road-trip ready. Make a good B-E-T to stay on the road this summer by having your Battery tested, looking for Engine coolant leaks and checking Tire condition.
Be prepared for emergencies with a mobile phone and car charger, a flashlight with extra batteries, a first-aid kit, a basic toolkit, and drinking water and snacks for all passengers.
AAA East Central is a not-for-profit association with 80 local offices in Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia serving 2.7 million members.