Despite gas prices that have jumped 42 cents in four weeks, a slow local economy and a challenging air travel system, nothing is stopping holiday travelers from heading out for a little rest and relaxation.
Today kicks off the 12-day Thanksgiving holiday travel season and many in the transportation industry have deemed it one of the busiest travel times of the year.
AAA predicts roadways will be packed with 31.2 million Americans traveling 50 miles or more from home, a modest 1.5 percent increase from last year`s 30.8 million travelers.
Gas prices are definitely playing a factor, but will not deter travelers, said Jim Lehman, senior vice president of AAA East Central, which represents members in western Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and New York.
“This is the first time that we have seen gas prices topping more than $3 a gallon in November.Â A year ago, prices were in the range of $2.20 a gallon, so this year travelers are really feeling the pinch,” Lehman said. “But Thanksgiving is traditionally a time for family gatherings and higher gas prices will not discourage Americans from connecting with their loved ones.”
Many of the trips will be short, one-tank trips brought about when people realize just how much last-minute plane tickets cost.
“Any kind of travel has to fit within a budget and with everything that is going on from gas prices to Lorain`s sluggish economy, people are realizing that staying close to home will mean saving money,” said Jeff Brown, owner/agent of North Coast Travel Service in Elyria. “Airlines are giving no breaks for the popular places.”
This late in the game, a four-hour drive could be a pain, but better on the budget than a one-hour flight, said Joe Smith, owner of Personal Travel Corp in Avon Lake.
“Six hundred dollars is a shock to the system when it`s only a quick flight to Buffalo, but that`s what I had to tell one customer who wanted to visit her family next week,” Smith said. “Driving started to look a whole lot better at that point.”
Last minutes travelers shouldn`t hold their breath for good deals. Those were gone back in the summer, said Cor Michaels, travel agent at Travel World International in Lorain.
“A lot of Lorain residents are just now deciding they want to go home to Puerto Rico this Thanksgiving or Christmas and are finding the cheapest tickets are like $800,” she said. “That`s not like it was in July when a cheap flight to Puerto Rico cost about $250. All the cheap seats are long gone now.”
Planning ahead or traveling in the off-season is still the best alternative to high prices.
It`s no secret that air travel this year has been a real challenge, with record flight delays and other issues. But for those who planned ahead, Caribbean cruises, gambling expeditions to Las Vegas and family outing to Orlando`s Walt Disney World are all top travel destinations, said Michaels, who booked many holiday family vacations months ago.
“A lot of people are doing family vacations away from home,” she said. “Instead of sitting at home eating turkey, families are saying â€˜Let`s see Mickey Mouse.` ”
So, what do you do if you didn`t have that kind of foresight months ago when the sun was still blaring?
“Save the money and the aggravation and just do it a week later,” Brown said.
The calendar may say Thanksgiving is Thursday, but pushing holiday celebrations back a week could also mean saving hundreds of dollars, he said.