Despite gas prices, more than 30 million Americans traveling for Memorial Day

The average price of gas was $3.85 a gallon for the week that ended Monday. The number of automotive travelers during Memorial Day weekend is expected to be about the same as a year ago.

Damian Dovarganes/AP
Travelers fill up at a gas station for an early start on the Memorial Day weekend traffic in Valencia, Calif., Friday. Gas prices are still topping the $4-a-gallon mark in much of the country and are forcing holiday travelers to spend more on fill-ups than they will on hotel rooms.

Compared with Memorial Day weekend last year, gasoline prices are now about $1 a gallon higher. Yet the number of automotive travelers this weekend is expected to be about the same as a year ago.

The lack of change in the number of travelers is due to unpredictable gas prices in recent weeks, AAA says.

At the beginning of April, the price of a gallon of gasoline was about $3.68, according to data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). The price hovered around $4 a gallon earlier this month, but now it’s coming down again. The average price for the week that ended Monday was $3.85 a gallon, according to the EIA.

Traveling by car continues to be the dominant mode of travel for Memorial Day. Some 30.9 million people, or about 88 percent of all travelers, will be in an automobile on their way out of town this weekend, AAA reports.

When AAA accounts for other forms of travel, including flying, it projects a total of 34.9 million Americans being mobile for the holiday weekend. This represents a 0.2 percent increase compared with a year ago.

Other economic factors, including employment, could figure into Americans’ travel decisions.

Even though the majority of travelers plan to go by car this weekend, “many of them will compensate by reducing other areas of their travel budget” by at least 20 percent, says Troy Green, a spokesman for AAA.

Gas prices have dipped this month in every region of the United States – most sharply in the Midwest and the least sharply in the Rocky Mountains. The highest gas prices in the US are on the West Coast, at $4.04 a gallon. The lowest prices are in the Gulf Coast at $3.71 a gallon.

The relatively high gasoline prices may also be affecting what kind of cars travelers are driving this weekend.

Sales of fuel-efficient vehicles and small cars helped drive up total automotive sales 18 percent in April, compared with the previous month. Automakers reported that consumers shifted from buying larger vehicles to purchasing small ones, a direct response to the recent spike in gas prices.

For example, sales of the Honda Fit, a subcompact, rose 66 percent in April, and sales of the Insight, Honda’s small hybrid model, rose 35 percent the same month. Hyundai-Kia, the automaker that reported the greatest gains, said much of that was due to the Elantra, a small car whose sales rose 40 percent.

On the domestic side, General Motors reported that April sales for the Chevrolet Suburban and the Chevy Tahoe, both SUV models, dropped 31 and 16 percent, respectively.

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