U.S. Memorial Day weekend travel to reach 9-year high

U.S. travel during the Memorial Day holiday weekend will rise to the highest level since 2005, boosted by more automobile trips, as pump prices drop and the economy improves, AAA said.

About 36.1 million people will journey 50 miles (80 kilometers) or more from May 22 to May 26, the nation’s biggest motoring organization said in a statement. That’s up from 35.5 million a year earlier and 2.6 percent above the 10-year average of 35.1 million, according to Heathrow, Florida-based AAA.

U.S. consumers’ disposable income grew 0.5 percent in March, the fastest rate since September, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Employers added 288,000 jobs last month, the biggest increase in payrolls since January 2012, Labor Department data show. Among them were automakers, which are expanding operations amid rising sales.

AAA predicts that average gasoline prices will be similar to or slightly less than last’s year’s Memorial Day average of $3.63 a gallon. Pump prices have dropped 4.8 cents to $3.648 from the year’s high of $3.696 on April 26.

“As the economy continues to improve at a slow and steady pace, consumer spending, disposable income, consumer confidence and the employment outlook are trending up,” Marshall Doney, AAA’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. “Travel for the holiday is expected to hit a new post-recession high.”

About 88 percent of holiday travelers, or 31.8 million, will travel by car and truck. That’s an increase of 400,000, or 1.3 percent, from 2013. The number of air travelers will rise 2.4 percent to 2.6 million, AAA said.

Other modes of travel, including bus and train, will be used by 1.7 million travelers, 6.5 percent more than a year ago.

The lowest average published airfares will rise 6 percent to $227 for round-trip tickets, AAA said. Weekend daily rental rates for a mid-sized car will increase 1 percent to $44.

AAA’s projections are based on research by IHS Global Insight of Lexington, Massachusetts.

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