AAA projects 33 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the Labor Day holiday weekend, a 2.9 percent increase from the 32.1 million people who traveled last year.  The total number of 2012 Labor Day holiday travelers is expected to reach a new post-recession high, and is the third increase in holiday travel this year. AAA’s Memorial Day and Independence Day holiday travel forecasts projected increases of 1.2 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively.  The Labor Day holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, August 30 to Monday, September 3.

Despite a sluggish economy and recent rises in gas prices, the increase in expected Labor Day holiday weekend travelers is driven by improving consumer confidence compared to one year ago and American’s unwavering desire to travel.

Automobile travel up 3.1 percent; Impact of gasoline prices on travel plans

Approximately 28.2 million people (85 percent of holiday travelers) will make their Labor Day holiday journey by automobile. This is a 3.1 percent increase compared to the 27.3 million people who took to the nation’s roadways in 2011.

In Washington, the average price of regular gasoline is $3.98 per gallon, a 10 cent increase in the past week and 21 cents higher than this time last year. Idaho drivers are spending less at the pump with the average price of $3.64 per gallon, which is an increase of five cents in the past week, but four cents lower than this time last year.

Today’s national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline is $3.72, an increase of two cents in the past week and 15 cents higher than one year ago. Not only is today’s national price higher than the same day last year but it is the highest ever for this day in history.

Gasoline purchases are critical expenditures in most household budgets, yet 66 percent of intended holiday travelers said their current household finances would not negatively impact their Labor Day holiday weekend travel plans.  As the Labor Day holiday weekend approaches, increases in gas prices could cause some travelers to alter their plans.

Number of air travelers expected to increase by 3.7 percent, airfares decrease

Labor Day holiday air travel has been fairly consistent since the recession bounce back began for the travel industry in 2010.  About 2.5 million leisure travelers (eight percent of holiday travelers) will fly during the Labor Day weekend, a 3.7 percent increase compared to 2011 when 2.5 million traveled by air.  In 2010, 2.6 million chose to fly to their Labor Day vacation destinations which began the steady recovery from the decade-low 1.5 million air travelers in 2009. Airfares decreased four percent compared to last year with an average lowest round-trip rate of $197 for the top 40 U.S. air routes, according to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index.

The remaining seven percent of Labor Day holiday travelers are expected to use other modes of transportation, including cruise ship, rail and bus travel accounting for 2.3 million Americans - a nominal 0.2 percent decrease compared to last year.

Average travel distance increases as most travelers prefer shorter trips, spending up

According to a survey of intended travelers, the average distance traveled by Americans during the Labor Day holiday weekend is expected to be 626 miles, up slightly from last year’s average 608 miles.  The increase in expected air travel is a contributing factor to the slight lift in the average travel distance.

Median spending is expected to be $749, a small increase over the $702 median spending of intended holiday travelers in 2011.

Travelers to experience increase in hotel rates, decrease in car rental rates

According to AAA, Labor Day holiday hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to increase four percent from a year ago with travelers spending an average of $154 per night compared to $148 last year. Travelers planning to stay at AAA Two Diamond hotels can expect to pay six percent more at an average cost of $117 per night.  Weekend daily car rental rates will average $39, a 10 percent decrease from one year ago.