AAA: Gas Prices Crimping Memorial Day Travel Plans

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High fuel prices are prompting many Americans to reconsider their Memorial Day travel plans, AAA says.

The automobile club released a survey Thursday projecting that the number of Americans traveling more than 50 miles from home over the long holiday weekend will fall nearly 1 percent from last year.

"Many Americans are feeling a financial pinch this holiday weekend from record high gasoline prices and other factors," said AAA president and chief executive Robert Darbelnet.

About 31.7 million Americans plan to travel via car over Memorial Day weekend, a 1 percent decline from 32 million last year. About 4.35 million will travel via plane, a decline of about half a percent from the 4.37 million who flew last year. Another 1.8 million will travel via train, bus or other type of transportation.

At the pump, the national average price of a gallon of regular gas rose 1.8 cents overnight to a $3.776, according to a survey of stations by AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. Prices are 67 cents higher than a year ago, and many analysts think they could rise as high as $4 on a national basis in coming weeks. Consumers in many areas are already paying that much, or more.

High prices have affected demand for gasoline, which has mostly fallen since January, according to Energy Department data.

Despite the expected drop in travel, Darbelnet notes, "more than 12 percent of the U.S. population will be celebrating the Memorial Day weekend away from home." Still, a long-term decline in travel due to high prices could hurt the economy's leisure sector, he said.

"If a trend toward higher gas prices and fewer travelers were to continue, it would eventually harm travel-dependent companies that provide employment opportunities and tax revenues in almost every city and town in America," Darbelnet said.

Other travel costs are also on the rise, AAA said. The average Memorial Day weekend air fare will rise 8 percent from last year, to $179. The average cost of a rental car will jump 45 percent from last year, to $45 a day.

AAA's findings are based on an online survey of more than 2,000 adults, supplemented by surveys of 6,500 people who live in the top 10 travel states. The Travel Industry Association, a trade group, analyzes the data and provides AAA with the forecasts.