42.5 million US people are expected to hit the road to visit family and friends for Thanksgiving – the highest number of holiday travellers since the start of the recession.
Thanksgiving travellers are at the mercy of the weather, because forecasters warned of rain and scattered thunderstorms in much of the north east, with a mixture of snow and freezing rain expected in upstate New York and northern New England. Mountainous areas could see 4 to 8 inches of snow.
Two forecasted storms are expected to make air travel rough across parts of the country, causing delays and cancellations at airports.
The first storm, which has already caused flash flooding across Arkansas, is forecast to move into the Southeast, bringing severe weather on Wednesday.
It will also bring rain showers and snow showers to the North east, with two inches of rain expected in Boston and New York and more than a foot of snow through New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
The worst of the severe weather was forecast to develop across parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, even into North and South Carolinas.
The second storm moved into the North west Tuesday evening and continuing through Thanksgiving day, bringing with it up to five inches of rain and a foot of snow to higher elevations. Flooding and strong winds are expected to be a major concern.
According to travel tracker AAA, 4% more Americans than last year will journey at least 50 miles from home, with about 90% of them driving. Another 8% plan to fly, but AAA notes that higher airfares and less available seats have forced many would-be fliers to drive instead. The remaining travelers plan to take buses, trains or other forms of transport.
This is the third consecutive Thanksgiving that US people have taken to the road in higher numbers than in the past year, according to Associated Press.
The increase in holiday travel is welcome news for an industry that has been struggling to get Americans back on the road.
Memorial Day saw no increase in vacations and travel was down for both July 4th and Labor Day breaks.
AAA says that Americans are willing to spend now because they want to spend time with their family.
Bill Sutherland, vice president, AAA Travel Services, said in a statement:
“As consumers weigh the fear of economic uncertainty and the desire to create lasting family memories this holiday, more Americans are expected to choose family and friends over frugality.”
Those driving should expect to pay more at the pump. The average price of a gallon of gas so far this November is $3.42, up nearly 20% from last year’s $2.86, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. That means for every 100 miles a family drives this holiday they should expect to spend about $2.50 more on gas.
Rates for mid-range hotels are expected to increase 6% from last year ago with travelers spending an average of $145 a night. Lower-priced motels are seeing a 7% increase to $103.
Weekend daily car rental rates will average $37, an 11% drop from last year.
According to AAA, Thanksgiving airfares are 20% higher than last year with an average lowest round-trip rate of $212 for the top 40 U.S. air routes.
That estimate is much higher than a 4% increase predicted by both Orbitz and Priceline.
Those companies said the average airfare was closer to $400. Airlines report quarterly airfares but don’t break out prices for specific holidays.
The findings are based on a survey of 1,357 people in the U.S., 543 who said they plan to travel.
On this the fourth Thanksgiving since the economy sank, prices for everything from airline flights to groceries are going up, and some Americans are scaling back.
Yet in many households, the occasion is too important to skimp on. Said one mother: “I don’t have much to give, but I’ll be cooking, and the door will be open.”
Bill Sutherland, vice president of AAA Travel Services, said: “This is the first significant increase in any holiday travel this year.”
Families who had foregone travel over the last three years are likely to reverse their decisions this year, the group said, leading to the uptick in the forecast.
The forecast, based on a monthly survey of 50,000 homes, said some 3.4 million – up 1.8% year-on-year – would fly over the Thanksgiving weekend.
Thanksgiving travel took a big hit in 2008 following the financial crisis and the economic uncertainty it caused.