AAA: Lower gas prices, increased consumer spending fueling vacations

Call it the last fling of summer: an estimated 34.7 million Americans plan to travel during the upcoming Labor Day holiday, the highest volume since 2008; and a 1.3% increase over last year’s holiday weekend, says AAA Southern New England.

Of this overall number:

•85.7% or 29.7 million — a 1.4% increase — will hit the road;

•7.6% or 2.65 million — a 1% increase — will fly; and

•6.7% or 2.35 million will take some other mode of transportation.

The Labor Day holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, Aug. 28 to Monday, Sept. 1.

According to AAA’s national annual Labor Day holiday survey, the New England region is expected to slightly outpace the national travel projects. Total travel from New England is expected to increase 1.6% over last year, compared to the 1.3% national increase. Furthermore, auto travel from the region is expected to be up 1.7% compared to 2013 and up 1.4% compared nationally.

Survey highlights

•Americans will be paying the lowest gas prices this month since 2010.

•Consumer spending has surpassed income growth this year, indicating that Americans are willing to take on debt to finance a vacation.

•Airfares are  2% higher than last year, daily average car rental costs that remain flat; while rates at AAA Two Diamond hotels and AAA Three Diamond hotels are 9% and 6% higher, respectively; and

•Historically, when the Labor Day weekend begins in August, Americans show a higher tendency to travel.

This year’s Labor Day increase may be attributed to an improving economy and lower gas prices, AAA said.

Most U.S. consumers are paying the lowest gas prices for early August since 2010. AAA expects gas prices to have little impact on this year’s holiday travel, although lower prices could help make last-minute jaunts a bit more affordable.  Barring a major development, such as a Gulf Coast hurricane, prices are likely to remain relatively low leading up to the holiday weekend compared to recent years, which will allow travelers to allocate more of their budgets towards travel expenses.

AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight. The Colorado-based business information provider teamed with AAA in 2009 to jointly analyze travel trends during the major holidays. AAA has been reporting on holiday travel trends for more than two decades.

AAA Southern New England is a not-for-profit auto club with 51 offices in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey, providing more than 3.5 million local AAA members with travel, insurance, finance, and auto-related services. In CT, the AAASNE territory includes Fairfield, New Haven and Litchfield counties.