Gas prices could fall another ten cents or more in the next week, but experts anticipate that budget-strapped households are going to be cautious about Memorial Day Weekend travel this year.
According to AAA, in an analysis and travel forecast conducted with IHS Global Insight, about 34.9 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the holiday weekend (from Thursday to Monday), which is about 0.2 percent higher than last year's level.
The organization predicts a slight decline in the number of Americans driving to their destination, though—about 30.9 million, down from the 31.0 million who drove last year. And despite the price of gasoline averaging more than a dollar per gallon higher than last year, nearly nine out of ten Memorial Day weekend travelers will drive.
Meanwhile, gas prices continue to fall—albeit not as quickly as motorists would hope. As of Monday, GasBuddy.com showed average U.S. pump prices down nearly ten cents from week-ago levels, to about $3.83 a gallon.
Analysts anticipate that we've seen the highest pump prices for a while, as supply is strong while demand is lower than 2010 levels, so prices will likely fall well into the summer travel season.
Majority: Gas prices won't affect holiday travel
Americans weren't going to let gas prices faze them much anyway—at least when it comes to holiday weekend travel. In a survey of "intended travelers," AAA found that about six out of ten drivers said that the higher gas prices would not impact their travel plans, while it would for about four out of ten.
Among those who said that plans would be impacted, about 30 percent would be taking a shorter trip or seeking an alternate mode, while 70 percent said that they would be economizing in other areas—like spending, or accommodations. That's confirmed in the detail on activities gathered by the study; most respondents are less likely to do activities that take money, like dining, shopping, gambling, attending concerts or theme parks, and more likely to go sightseeing, hiking, or biking than last year.
Air travel, oddly, is expected to surge over the holiday weekend this year—with an 11.5-percent gain compared to last year. Airfares and hotel rates are both up significantly from last year.
On average, Americans will be traveling about 792 miles round-trip over the holiday weekend—27 miles more than last year—and the typical family is expected to spend $692, or 14 percent more than last year.
Back from the holiday weekend, back to reality?
That said, there's plenty of evidence that this latest round of higher gas prices has had a higher effect than previous price hikes. In a recent Gallup Poll, nearly 75 percent reported making significant changes to accommodate higher pump prices; and another survey this month from Coldwell Banker, of its realtors, confirmed that gas prices are changing U.S. housing demand, as families make more choices based on proximity to their workplace.