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Holiday travelers to top 100M for first time ever; most will drive

If you hit the roads, the skies or the rails this holiday season expect to have a little company: almost one-third of the country to be exact.

The number of holiday travelers this year will top 100 million for the first time, the AAA travel organization said Tuesday. Most of those people will be driving – and fueling up for less than $2 a gallon.

"Rising incomes and low gas prices are helping to fill stockings this year, and more people than ever will choose to spend those savings on travel this year," said Marshall Doney, CEO of AAA.

Tourists queue at the airport in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh on November 6, 2015.
Mohamed El-Shahed | AFP | Getty Images
Tourists queue at the airport in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh on November 6, 2015.

The group is expecting 100.5 million people who will travel at least 50 miles from home from Dec. 23 through Jan. 3. That number nearly triples the 38 million travelers for the Thanksgiving holiday this year and represents a 1.4% increase over last year. It is the seventh consecutive year of growth since a low of 85.7 million travelers in 2008 during the recession.

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"The holidays are a time for joining with friends and family, and the record number of people traveling this holiday should make for a joyous travel season," Doney said.

The growing labor market and lowering gas prices are driving the increase, according to AAA, which provides services to 55 million members for travel, insurance and automotive-related services.

Nearly 91% of holiday travelers will drive; about 5.7% will fly to their destinations. Travel by other types of transportation, such as buses, cruises and trains, will increase to 3.4 million travelers.

The national average price for gas is poised to fall below $2 per gallon by Christmas, which is 55 cents less than last year, according to AAA. New Year's Day will see the lowest prices since 2009, the group said. The price on the first day of the year climbed to $3.32 per gallon in 2014 before dropping to $2.24 at the start of this year, AAA said.

Airfares for the top 40 domestic routes are 6% lower for the holiday season than last year, for an average $174 round-trip, according to AAA's Leisure Travel Index.

Rates for AAA three-diamond hotels will be 4% higher, at an average $150 per night, the group said, and daily car rental rates will average $68, which is 3% higher than last year.