Higher numbers expected to travel the highways this Memorial Day weekend

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 85 views 

Rising pump prices apparently won’t deter Arkansas travelers and other vacationers across the national from hitting the busy roads heading into the upcoming Memorial Day weekend on May 25, the official kick off of the summer driver season.

In its annual Memorial Day travel forecast, the AAA predicts that automotive travel this Memorial Day holiday will be up 5.3 % to 37.2 million travelers compared to last year’s holiday weekend, which would be the highest volume in 10 years.

Traditionally, although Memorial Day is held on the last Monday in May, U.S. vacationers commemorate the day for men and women who have died in military service by taking a four-day weekend vacation, hitting the road to visit family, holding a picnic or attending a summer sporting event. The Memorial Day holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, May 21 to Monday, May 25.

“Following a harsh winter, many Americans are trading in their snow boots for flip flops and making plans to start the season with a vacation getaway,” said AAA President Marshall Doney. “AAA is expecting more Memorial Day travelers this year than any time in the past 10 years as confident consumers come out of hibernation ready to explore national parks, beach destinations and America’s great cities.”

Doney cited a number of economic factors contributing to the large increase in holiday travelers this year.

“A strong employment market and low gas prices have driven consumer optimism to new highs and boosted Americans’ disposable income. This is welcome news for the travel industry,” said the AAA executive.

AAA’s forecast is encouraging for the nation’s economy, despite the fact that the average U.S. price of gas has increased for 28 of the previous 29 days to $2.70 per gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). As of today, driver are seeing the highest average pump price of the year, yet still paying a dollar less than a year ago heading into the national holiday.

AAA also predicts gas prices may not change much by the holiday weekend, which would result in the cheapest Memorial Day gas prices in at least five years.

However, regional refinery issues on the West Coast continue to push prices higher in a handful of states, with the majority of the most expensive markets located in that region, the EIA said.

The refinery problems on the West Coast even caused GasBuddy.com to send out a news alert last week warning that average price for California’s reformulated regular unleaded gasoline could hit $4 per gallon as stations began passing along higher prices to consumers because of refinery outages.

GasBuddy said the expected West Coast price shock will be centered in Los Angeles, while other Northern California markets may escape another round of price spikes as supply in Los Angeles remains much tighter than other regional markets.

“Motorists are urged only to buy what gasoline they immediately need to avoid further straining an already extremely tight supply chain,” GasBuddy said in a press release.

According to the EIA’s latest figures, California ($3.81) is the nation’s most expensive retail gasoline market, and is joined by four other states posting averages of $3 or more per gallon: Hawaii ($3.25), Nevada ($3.30), Alaska ($3.21) and Oregon ($3.02).

The price at the pump is above $2.50 per gallon in 36 states and Washington, D.C. On the other end of the spectrum, motorists in South Carolina ($2.38), Mississippi ($2.42) Missouri and Arkansas ($2.44) are the paying the lowest averages at the pump, although they too have seen prices inch upward since last week’s report.

Will Speer, GasBuddy’s senior petroleum analyst for the Southwest market, said motorists traveling in and through Arkansas and neighboring states shouldn’t worry about the West Coast run-up affecting prices across the region.

Speer said consumers who are frustrated by rising pump prices over the past few weeks should remember prices a year ago that were nearing $4 a gallon before Memorial Day.

“Consumers can be a little short-sighted when they see price rising,” he said. “Year over year, things are looking pretty good in Little Rock and other areas across the state.”
Speer also advised Arkansas travelers who are taking trips out of town to plan before hitting the roads.

Statewide, motorists are paying an average of $2.44 per gallon to fill up their tank across the state, according to AAA’s daily fuel gauge. Pump prices in the state’s metropolitan areas range from a low of $2.35 per gallon in the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers area to a high of $2.49 for drivers at the stateline in Texarkana.

Motorists in the Little Rock metropolitan area are seeing prices at an average of $2.43 per gallon, and travelers and residents to the Fort Smith area are paying about $2.44 per gallon on average. Residents in the Little Rock-North Little Rock area are paying an average of $2.46 a gallon to fill up their tanks.

For Arkansas motorist traveling to tourist destinations across the state, the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department has a map of major state interstate routes and highways with construction and lane closures.

AAA says the 4.7% in the number of Memorial Day travelers compared to 2014 is the highest forecast growth rate for any of the holidays tracked by AAA since Independence Day 2012.

More than 88% of travelers (33 million) will travel by automobile, an increase of 5.3% over last Memorial Day. Holiday air travel is expected to increase 2.5% to 2.6 million leisure travelers. Travel by other modes of transportation including cruises, trains and buses, is expected to decrease 3.6% this Memorial Day, to 1.64 million.

Travelers who plan to find a hotel during their holiday vacation will likely encounter higher lodging costs this year. According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, the average nightly stay in a “two diamond” hotel is 16% higher this year at $144, while “three diamond” hotels will cost 7% more, averaging $182.

Yet those choosing to take a plane to grandma’s house will find that airfares are down slightly compared to Memorial Day 2014. Average airfares for the top 40 domestic flight routes are 2% cheaper this year, falling to about $222, AAA said.