While U.S. retail gasoline prices (search) have declined for seven weeks in a row, they are still at the highest level ever recorded by the government heading into the busy Christmas travel week, the Energy Department said on Monday.

The national pump price for regular unleaded gasoline fell 3.2 cents over the last week to $1.815 a gallon, up 33 cents from a year ago, according to a survey of service stations by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (search).

A record 62.7 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this Christmas and New Year's Day, according to the AAA motorist club (search). About 50.9 million of those travelers, or 81 percent, will go by auto, up 3 percent from last year.

When adjusted for inflation the price for gasoline was at its highest in 1981 at close to $3 a gallon.

The average pump price during recent Christmas pasts were: $1.49 in 2003, $1.40 in 2002, $1.07 in 2001 and $1.41 in 2000,

The EIA, the Energy Department's analytical arm, also said the average price truckers pay for diesel fuel declined 1.3 cents to $1.984 a gallon, down for a third week but up 48 cents from a year ago.

The EIA's weekly survey showed the retail price for cleaner-burning reformulated gasoline, sold in polluted metropolitan areas, fell 5.4 cents to $1.894 a gallon.

The West Coast had the most expensive regular unleaded gasoline, with the price down 7.3 cents to $1.993 a gallon. Los Angeles topped the agency's city survey of gasoline costs, with the price falling a huge 10.8 cents to $2.072 a gallon.

The Gulf Coast states had the cheapest fuel, with the price down 4.3 cents to $1.718 per gallon. Among major U.S. cities, Houston had the best holiday gift for drivers, with fuel down 7.1 cents to $1.677 a gallon.

The weekly report also showed gasoline prices were down 3.8 cents to $1.981 in Miami, down 1.5 cents to $1.927 in New York City, down 4.8 cents to $1.88 in Seattle, down 2.1 cents to $1.808 in Chicago, and up 5.4 cents to $1.763 in Cleveland.

Separately, truckers in the New England states paid the most for diesel fuel at $2.199 a gallon, down 0.7 cent from the prior week. The Gulf Coast states had the cheapest diesel at $1.922 a gallon, up 1.2 cents.