MIAMI VALLEY — 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 2 million, or 5 percent more than last year and the most in more than a dozen years.
“The highest gas prices since 2014 won’t keep travelers home this Memorial Day weekend,” said Bill Sutherland, senior vice president, AAA Travel and Publishing. “A strong economy and growing consumer confidence are giving Americans all the motivation they need to kick off what we expect to be a busy summer travel season.”
The Memorial Day holiday period is defined as Thursday May 24-Monday May 28.
By the numbers: 2018 Memorial Day holiday travel forecast
Automobiles: The vast majority of travelers, 88 percent or 36.6 million, will hit the road this Memorial Day, 4.7 percent more than last year, fourth consecutive year of an increase in road trippers.
Planes: 3.1 million people will travel by air, a 6.8 percent increase and the fifth consecutive year of air travel volume increases.
Trains, Buses and Cruise Ships: Travel across these sectors will increase by 2.4 percent to 1.8 million passengers.
Drivers Beware: Worst times to hit the road
For the 36.6 million Americans traveling by automobile, 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 not deterring travelers
The 88 percent of travelers driving to their holiday weekend destinations 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 over last Memorial Day.
Lower hotel, airline and car rental costs make up for higher gas prices
While road trippers will pay higher prices at the pump, they’ll pay less for most mid-range hotels. And flyers will pay less for airfare and car rentals.
According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, airfares are 7 percent lower than last Memorial Day, landing at an average price of $168 for a round-trip flight along the top 40 domestic routes. 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.
Top Memorial Day travel destinations
Orlando again tops this year’s list of the most-visited Memorial Day destinations in the U.S., based on AAA advance 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
Las Vegas, Nevada
New York, New York
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, the busiest airport pick-up locations for travelers renting a car this Memorial Day are:
Las Vegas (LAS)
Los Angeles (LAX)
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.