Millions of Americans are changing their Thanksgiving travel plans because of tough economic conditions, but most are still planning to make those trips to grandma’s, according to the AAA auto club.
“In the tug of war between purse strings and heart strings, heart strings win out,” said Robert Darbelnet, AAA president and chief executive. “Grandma matters.”
The 41 million people planning to travel by car, plane, bus or train is 1.4% less than last year, the first drop since 2002. Air travel is expected to drop by 7.2% as 5.8% more bargain-hunting travelers plan to go by train or bus, Darbelet said. Travel by automobile will drop only 1.2%, so the roadways will still be very busy.
Part of the reason: Average gasoline prices dropped Tuesday to $2.07, the lowest since 2005. That makes the trip cheaper, and takes pressure off family budgets because people believe their winter heating bills might be smaller, Darbelet said.
According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, travelers can expect to pay 8% more for airfares this year, and car rentals are also more expensive. But many hotels and resorts have lowered prices, to attract visitors, and 29% of travelers still intend to include at least some entertainment in their holiday activities.
Major entertainment and shopping cities of Las Vegas, New York and Chicago rank ahead of all others as air travel destinations, according to online ticket seller Orbitz.
Bookings for this week and next week at Disney World in Orlando are down 1% from last year, said Disney CEO Bob Iger.
Darbelet pointed to the major impact the economy has had on other sectors of the economy and said holiday travel is doing well in comparison.
“Thanksgiving is an important family reunion,’ he said. “People will find other things they can cut back on or a cheaper way of getting from A to B.”