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Labor Day travel predicted to climb this year

It's good news for the economy, but bad news for anyone hoping to avoid sitting in traffic during the upcoming holiday weekend.

AAA Travel is projecting 34.7 million Americans will venture 50 miles or more from their homes during the Labor Day holiday travel period, from Thursday August 28 to Monday September 1. That would be the highest Labor Day holiday travel volume since 2008, when the recession began -- and a 1.3 percent increase compared to the same time period last year.

The report says car travel over the holiday will rise by 1.4 percent, compared to last year's holiday weekend -- with nearly 30 million people expected to be on the road. Nearly eight percent of travelers, around 2.65 million passengers, will go by air. That's a one percent increase over 2013's figures, and comes in spite of rising airfare costs.

The impetus for increased travel this year is lower unemployment rates coupled with rising consumer confidence.

"This year, Americans are more optimistic about their financial situation," said Marshall Doney, AAA's chief operating officer, in a statement. "Consumer spending continues to outpace disposable income, indicating that Americans are comfortable using their credit cards to take one last summer vacation this year."

And, of course, those holiday drivers are also encouraged by this summer's lower gas prices.

AAA says the average price of a gallon of gas is currently at $3.44, compared to $3.59 over last year's Labor Day holiday. Most U.S. consumers are paying the lowest gas prices in four years for early August. senior petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaan notes that gas spot prices on the international markets began this week by dropping several cents per gallon. That could be a sign, he blogged, that "even lower gasoline prices are soon to come," especially as the oil and gas industry prepares for the seasonal transition, beginning next month, back to cheaper winter blends of gasoline.

Barring a major weather event -- such as a hurricane affecting Gulf Coast refineries -- or some new geopolitical crisis, AAA expects gas prices to remain relatively low leading up to the Labor Day holiday, allowing Americans to "allocate more of their budgets towards travel expenses."

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