Lower gas prices and a slowly improving economy mean more Americans will be on the road this Thanksgiving holiday.
AAA Travel is projecting that 46.3 million Americans will be traveling 50 miles or more from their homes over the long Thanksgiving weekend -0 from next Wednesday, Nov. 26 and through the following Sunday, Nov. 30. That's the highest volume of Thanksgiving travelers since 2007, before the recession -- and a 4.2 percent increase compared to last year.
Nearly 90 percent of those travelers will be driving, and therefore taking advantage of the lowest Thanksgiving-time gas prices in five years. AAA is reporting the current national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline is $2.85 cents -- a 43 cent drop from average gas prices during last year's Thanksgiving holiday.
"Americans are more optimistic about the future as improvements in several key economic factors, including employment, GDP and disposable income, are boosting consumer confidence and the desire to travel," Marshall Doney, AAA president and chief operating officer, said in a statement.
"Holiday joy has come early this year with Americans likely to pay the lowest Thanksgiving gas prices since 2009," he continued. "Lower prices are increasing disposable income and enabling families to carve out more money from household budgets for travel this Thanksgiving."
While gas prices may be lower, other travel-related expenses have increased. AAA's Leisure Travel Index reports an expected 8 percent rise in the cost of a mid-priced hotel room this holiday, averaging $154 per night, compared to $142 last year.
Car rental rates are also higher, with weekend daily rental rates averaging around $55, or a ten percent increase from last year. Airfares, meanwhile, are rising modestly, up by only about one percent compared to 2013 -- with the average cost of a discounted, round-trip ticket on a major domestic route coming in at $189.
AAA is also projecting travelers to spend, on average, nearly $575 on their holiday trips. And 89 percent of those traveling are expected to spend most of their Thanksgiving time with friends and family, with some vacationing and shopping thrown in for good measure.