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Memorial Day travel, spending expected to be down

Happy Holidays! It's the most wonderful time of the year - well, at least if you're making a living selling gasoline.

The Memorial Day holiday weekend marks the beginning of the summer driving season, when vacationing Americans begin taking to the road and guzzling more gas.

This holiday, along with Thanksgiving, also serves as a good economic measure of people's disposable income. We tend to travel more when we have more money in the bank.

But this year it doesn't look like we'll see a big jump in holiday travel.

According to national travel firm AAA, 34.8 million Americans will travel more than 50 miles this weekend. That's a 0.9 percent decrease from the 35.1 million holiday travelers who hit the road in 2012.

"AAA is forecasting Memorial Day travel to be slightly lower this year due to an up-and-down economy, the impact of the end of the payroll tax holiday on working families and a 30-year low in the percentage of working age people in the workforce," AAA president Robert Darbelnet said when announcing the forecast results.

AAA projects median spending on holiday travel will decline 6 percent to $659 this year, compared to $702 last year.

However, it doesn't mean you'll see fewer cars on the road this weekend. In fact, the number of people driving is projected to edge up slightly.

That's because AAA expects fewer people to fly to their destinations.

About 2.3 million people are expected to board a plane this weekend, a drop of 8 percent from the 2.5 million who flew last year.

Most of those who don't fly are expected to drive instead, pushing the number of people traveling by automobile this weekend to 31.2 million, slightly higher than the 31.1 million who drove last year.

AAA indicated Americans are starting to tire of feeling nickel-and-dimed by airlines. And those TSA security measures aren't helping either.

"American travelers are experiencing fee fatigue and frustration with everything from higher fares to airport security," Darbelnet said. "As a result, many are choosing road travel in higher numbers due to the lower cost and convenience it offers."

A small silver lining for drivers this summer will be gas prices. Again, let me emphasize that it's very small.

Average gas prices across West Virginia are 5.5 cents less than they were going into last Memorial Day weekend. And it looks like - fingers crossed - that will be a trend that holds over the coming months.  

The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that summer gas prices will be ever-so-gently eased by slightly lower crude oil prices and a decline in gasoline consumption due to more-fuel efficient vehicles on the road.

The agency expects U.S. fuel prices to average $3.63 between now and September, down 6 cents from the $3.69 average last year.

That's small comfort, but in this economy every little bit helps.



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