This year's historic drop in oil and gas prices is just one of several factors in play when it comes to what analysts say will be record-setting travel numbers during the upcoming end-of-year holiday season.
AAA expects 98.6 million Americans will travel 50 or more miles from home between Tuesday, Dec. 23 and Sunday, Jan. 4. That figure is a four percent increase from 2013, and marks the highest-ever travel volume for that holiday period.
More than 90 percent of those travelers are expected to take a road trip during the holidays, a rise of 4.2 percent from last year. And about 5.7 million of those holiday travelers will be flying, a one percent increase from 2013.
The calendar is helping to get more people out of the house this month: Christmas and New Year's both fall on a Thursday this year, which allows consumers more flexibility with their travel schedules.
But lower gas prices and growing consumer confidence in the economic recovery appear to have been the tipping points that convinced potential travelers to load up the car, or buy airline tickets. The current national, average price for a gallon of gasoline is 70 cents less than it was a year ago -- a fact that AAA says has increased Americans' disposable income by 3.5 percent, compared to 2013.
"While the economy continues to improve at an uneven pace, it seems more Americans are looking forward with increasing consumer confidence, rather than looking back at the recession," Marshall Doney, AAA president and CEO said in a press statement. "This is helping to drive expected travel volumes to the highest level we have seen for the year-end holidays."
The stronger economy, however, also means hotel and rental car rates have crept up. Rates for a mid-level hotel room, according to AAA, now average $108 per night, or an increase of five percent from last year, while daily rental car rates are up four percent from 2013, with the average daily rental car fee standing at $66.