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Gas prices don't stop people from traveling home for the holidays

A green highway sign along eastbound US 50 indicates the exit to I75 and the Cinti-NKY Airport is ahead. Downtown Cincinnati is in the background.
Bill Rinehart
AAA expects more than 49 million Americans to drive at least 50 miles for the Thanksgiving holiday.

As Americans prepare to travel for the holidays, there's always a lot of attention to the price of gas. But it may not matter that much. AAA Public Affairs Manager Kara Hitchens says when fuel prices climb, people still take their holiday trips.

"Experts are saying that even though there's been the threat of inflation and people are paying more for goods and services right now, people are making adjustments in other places in their budget," she says. "We saw that with gas prices last year, when gas prices went up to over $5 a gallon, people were making adjustments in their budget to make it work for them."

Though the price of gas peaked earlier this year, the national average has since either fallen or remained flat, AAA data shows. Today's national average of $3.34 is 26 cents less than a month ago and 40 cents less than a year ago, the agency reports.

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Hitchens says after the pandemic lockdowns lifted, the travel industry came roaring back. She says that time in isolation seems to have made people appreciate going home for the holidays.

AAA predicts a 2.3% increase in Thanksgiving travel over last year. Hitchens says 55.4 million people will likely go at least 50 miles away from home.

"That's not a record. It's a lot of people, but it's not a record," she says. "The record was in 2005 with 58 million people traveling."

Hitchens says the TSA is expecting a record year for air travel with 4.6 million people flying, but most Americans — 49 million of them — will be driving.

"Typically for this side of the country, we're seeing people head south; head to the amusement parks, the resorts areas. Head along the coast; the Carolinas. Those beach areas are very popular," she says. "And folks in Ohio love Tennessee."

Hitchens says it appears most travelers will be leaving on Tuesday or Wednesday, and coming home Sunday.

As Americans get ready to travel, some are finding bargains. Hitchens says the cost of a domestic flight is up 5% from last year, but international flights are down nearly 6%. Domestic cruises cost 12% less than last year. Hitchens says the cruise industry is still trying to recover from the COVID pandemic. "I think people can probably get really good deals on cruises right now. The same with rental cars," she says. "Inventory may be short right now."

She says cruise line companies and rental car companies are doing what they can to get customers back. "How do you entice people in? By discounts and sales."

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The price of a domestic car rental is down 20% from last year, but renting a vehicle overseas will likely cost 9% more this year.

Hotels in the United States are 12% cheaper than in 2022, but up 5% overseas. A domestic package tour will cost 15% less than last year, but the price of an international tour is 21% higher.

Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio ever since.