Low gas prices mean a record-breaking July 4 travel weekend

Nearly 43 million Americans will hit the roads, seas, and air this weekend, according to AAA. Eighty-four percent of those will drive thanks to gas prices at decade lows. 

Chris O'Meara/AP/File
Traffic makes it way down busy S. Gulfview Boulevard, a road that runs along the Gulf of Mexico.

More people than ever will travel over the Independence Day weekend June 30 through July 4. AAA, an organization that offers roadside assistance and other car-related services to its members. projects nearly 43 million Americans will hit the roads, seas and air this weekend. That's 5 million more people than traveled during Memorial Day weekend in May.

Of those, 84 percent will drive, thanks largely to gas prices that are at their lowest in a decade. At $2.31, the price for a gallon of gas this weekend also is 17 percent lower than during this time in 2015, a savings of 47cents per gallon.

While cheaper gas and more spending is good news for drivers and for the American economy, more people on the roads is bad news for Independence Day travelers who will endure record traffic. Those who are car-bound this holiday should avoid traveling through major cities during peak travel times, specifically Friday and Monday afternoons, says Julie Hall, a spokeswoman for AAA.

“The best times to leave will be in the mornings because the roads should be less crowded, and you will have more time to get to your destination safely,” Ms. Hall writes The Christian Science Monitor in an email. “However, with more than 36 million people traveling by car over the Independence Day holiday weekend, the roadways will be crowded and patience will be in high demand,” she said.

The AAA expects to deal with thousands of incidents this weekend, most likely the result of flat tires, dead batteries, keys locked in the car, and breakdowns.

“Motorists should have their vehicles inspected and repaired before taking a long road trip,” suggests Hall.

For those traveling by air, cheaper oil has also reduced the cost of flying this holiday weekend. AAA estimates that average airfares this weekend for the top 40 domestic flight routes were 9 percent cheaper this year than last, costing $207 on average for a round trip. Orbitz, a travel-booking website projects airfares will be 10 percent cheaper all summer. However, the cost savings of air travel will be outweighed by more expensive hotels, which rose this summer by 17 percent from summer 2015, reports Orbitz.

“Affordable airfare, low gas prices, and a strong hotel market are early indications this will be a busy summer travel season,” said Jeanenne Tornatore, an Orbitz spokeswoman, in an April announcement. “And with average vacation budgets under $1,500, travelers will be seeking out savings, which they’ll find by booking packages and using hotel promotion codes.”

Orbitz reports that based on hotel bookings made through its site for vacations between June 1 and August 31, 80 percent of travelers are staying stateside this summer, with the top five destinations being Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Cancun and Riviera Maya in Mexico.

“European favorites such as London and Paris have fallen off the top 10 list this year,” reports Orbitz. “Rather, Americans traveling abroad are choosing Mexico and Caribbean hotspots that offer the appeal of off-season summer deals.”

To add to the good news, air travelers this weekend and throughout the summer could see some relief in airport security wait times, which have been scrutinized widely recently. Airlines for America, an industry group, says that security lines are getting shorter despite US airports handling a projected 100,000 more passengers per day than they did last year. About 2.51 million passengers per day will fly between June 1 and August 31, according to the organization.

“Through steps that the TSA [Transportation Security Administration] has taken, as well as work that the airlines themselves have done (investing some $50 million in people and resources to help address lengthy TSA wait times), wait times have been significantly reduced from delays we saw earlier in May,” says Jean Medina, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, in an email to the Monitor.

“We continue to encourage people to enroll in TSA Precheck. And we, and the TSA, continue to advise people to arrive two hours early for domestic flights and three hours early for international flights,” she says.

Besides driving and flying, more Americans are booking cruises and traveling by trains and buses, says AAA. Travel over those modes will increase by 2 percent this weekend over the same time last year.

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