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Gas Prices Won't Keep Americans Home Memorial Day Weekend

Thursday, 19 May 2011 | 12:40 PM ET

Providing more evidence that Americans are ready to hit the road this summer, AAA's annual Memorial Day Weekend travel survey finds slightly more Americans will be travelling away from home during the upcoming holiday weekend, and their trips will be further from home.

Passengers are pictured at Check-In desks at London's Heathrow airport.
Carl de Souza | AFP | Getty Images
Passengers are pictured at Check-In desks at London's Heathrow airport.

AAA estimates 34.9 million Americans will travel more than 50 miles from home during the three-day weekend, which is often seen as the kick-off to the summer travel season.

That's up 0.2 percent, or 100,000 travelers, from last year.

Although the overwhelming majority of travelers, some 88 percent, will reach their destination by car, the increase in overall travel is being driven by a return to air travel.

In fact, fewer Americans—about 30.9 million—plan to drive to their destination compared with last year, when 31 million drove.

Those taking to the road will be hit with higher gasoline prices than last year. According to AAA, the average price for regular gasoline is $3.91, compared with $2.85 this time last year.

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With stockpiles of gasoline increasing in recent weeks as drivers conserve gasoline in the face of higher prices, the price of gas is expected to moderate, perhaps falling as low as $3.25 for a gallon of regular by the end of June, according to some estimates.

"Some travelers will compensate for the higher fuel costs by cutting other areas of their travel budgets," said AAA President and CEO Robert L. Darbelnet.

Six out of 10 people polled by AAA said rising gas prices wouldn't impact upon their plans. However, of those who said the gas-price pinch would change their plans, 70 percent said they planned to either shorten their trip or travel by another mode of transportation.

Gas Problems Everywhere
AAA reports that 34.9 Americans will travel over Memorial Day weekend. Insight on Summer spending, with Robert Darbelnet, American Automobile Association president/CEO.

Certainly the number of people travelling by air is higher, up 11.5 percent from last year. About 2.93 million leisure air travelers, or about 8% of all holiday travelers, will fly between May 26 and May 30.

The remaining 3 percent of travelers will use rail, bus or watercraft to get to their destination.

The boost in air travel also pushed the average distance Americans will travel during the weekend 27 percent higher than last year, according to AAA.

Those traveling will face higher rates for airfares, hotels and car rentals. According to the AAA's Leisure Travel Index, Memorial Day holiday airfares are up about 14 percent with an average lowest trip rate of $201 for the top 40 U.S. air routes. Hotel rates are up 5 percent for hotels receiving AAA's "three-diamond" rating, and up 10 percent for hotels with a "two-diamond" rating.

That makes car rental prices seem like a relative bargain, with weekend daily car rental rates averaging $38, or just $1 higher than last year.

So bye, bye staycation, it's time to pack your bags.

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com. Follow Christina Cheddar Berk on Twitter @ccheddarberk.

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