The Memorial Day holiday weekend is coming, and with vaccination rates up and COVID infections down, it looks like the American public will be hitting the roads in a major way.
AAA expects more than 37 million Americans are expected to travel more that 50 miles from their homes this Memorial Day weekend (May 27 – May 31), with more than 34 million of those driving to their destination.
That is above the 23 million who traveled last year – about 60% higher. These AAA figures roughly match Cars.com.
“As more people get the COVID-19 vaccine and consumer confidence grows, Americans are demonstrating a strong desire to travel this Memorial Day,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel. “This pent-up demand will result in a significant increase in Memorial Day travel, which is a strong indicator for summer, though we must all remember to continue taking important safety precautions.”
Americans on the move
According to Cars.com, about 60% of Americans plan to travel this Memorial Day weekend. That figure is two-thirds higher than last year.
“It’s clear that car ownership will prove to be a durable post-pandemic travel trend,” said Jenni Newman, Cars.com’s editor-in-chief.
“Memorial Day marks the first major travel holiday since vaccination efforts began across the country, and Americans are excited to finally see family and friends in person. But even after widespread vaccination availability, we continue to see people prioritize travel by car because they don’t quite trust other forms of transportation yet.”
These travel plans are coming at a time when gas prices are expected to be higher.
Higher gas prices
According to the GasBuddy.com, as of May 18, it expects that the national average price of gasoline is expected to be $2.98 per gallon on Memorial Day, a slight drop from current prices but a $1.02 increase compared to the holiday weekend last year. This will also be the highest they have been on Memorial Day since 2014 when it reached $3.66.
GasBuddy gave a couple of reasons for these higher gas prices. First, there is the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack.
The high-profile attack has affected gas prices throughout the southeast United States. The pipeline delivers 45% of the gasoline supply to the Southeast and was shut down for six days causing massive panic and fuel shortages.
The attack came at a time when Americans were setting up their Memorial Day travel plans.
“The numbers are clear: people are itching to travel as the nation recovers from COVID-19 but are frustrated with some of the highest holiday weekend gas prices in quite some time,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy. “Gas prices have been increasing for months due to the continued rise in gasoline demand as a myriad of destinations reopen ahead of the summer driving season.
“The Colonial Pipeline shutdown only highlighted how much more reliant consumers have become on gasoline since the pandemic hit. Drivers don’t need to worry too much though, as there is an end in sight. Prices should ease up ahead of the holiday, mainly in areas where the pipeline challenges were most severe. Be warned that a rebound may happen as we approach midsummer, should gasoline demand rise to near-record levels.”
Traveling during tail-end of COVID pandemic
Public health is playing a major role in increased travel plans. AAA stated that the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) new guidelines stating that fully vaccinated people can travel domestically at a low risk to themselves. AAA also stated that travelers should still take proper precautions to avoid COVID.
The CDC recommends non-vaccinated travelers practice social distancing, wear a mask, wash their hands and get tested before and after travel.
Whether vaccinated or not, remember masks are required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.
GasBuddy figures indicate that about 60% of those who plan to travel on Memorial Day this year said that higher gas prices will directly affect their travel plans. That’s up from 4% last year.
“Highlighting how important the rising price of fuel has again become, the Pay with GasBuddy program saw intense interest during gas shortages last week,” said De Haan. “We expect that trend to continue as people hit the road during Memorial Day weekend. More than ever, we’re looking for reliable, convenient, and cost-effective ways to fill up.”
Travelers won’t be deterred
“We don’t expect higher gas prices to deter motorists this holiday season as many Americans are eager to travel,” said Jeanette C. McGee, AAA spokesperson. “We typically find when pump prices increase, travelers look for more free activities or eat out less while on vacation, but still take their planned trips.”
And something to remember for those who wish to travel during Memorial Day. AAA stated that the longest travel delays before the holiday weekend, particularly during the afternoons on Thursday, May 27 and Friday, May 28.
Drivers in several major U.S. metros could experience double the travel times compared to a normal trip, while Atlanta, Houston and New York drivers could see more than three times the delay on the busiest corridors.
“Although vehicle trips are down as much as 40% in some metros, afternoon congestion is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst, INRIX.
“With the increase of holiday travelers to the typical afternoon commute, drivers in the larger metros should expect longer delays heading into the holiday weekend. Travelers should anticipate delays to start on Wednesday and continue through Memorial Day. Our advice to drivers is to avoid the evening commute times and plan alternate routes.”