AAA: Memorial Day travel will hit a new high

May 23, 2017

If you're planning to get out of Dodge (or Dallas, or Denver, or D.C.) this holiday weekend, prepare for plenty of company on the highways and byways. AAA says that more people will travel over this Memorial Day break than have done so in over a decade.

All told, AAA expects nearly 39.3 million Americans to travel 50 or more miles from home between Thursday, May 25 and Monday, May 29. The last time the country saw numbers that high was in 2005.

As usual, the bulk of travelers will reach beaches, mountains, and lakes courtesy of their cars. AAA estimates that 34.6 million people will pile into the family sedan for holiday travel, a figure that's 2.4 percent higher than last year.

Though traveling by car is often the cheapest way to reach a destination, it won't be quite as cost-effective as it's been in previous years. Today's gas price of $2.34 per gallon is up 11 cents from 2016. 

Given all the additional travelers, the roads are likely to be considerably noticeably more congested over the next few days. AAA says that people traveling to or through Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York should expect major delays, especially if they're hitting the highway this Thursday or Friday, when travel begins to peak.

(Don't forget: more traffic means more accidents, too. For reference, New York historically sees an uptick of 27 percent in accidents at the start of the Memorial Day holiday.)

Before heading out, AAA suggests that you make sure your car is in good shape, especially the tires and the battery. The organization says that it expects to rescue at least 330,000 motorists over the weekend, and the most frequent causes of roadside issues are flat tires, failing batteries, and lockouts.

If you're planning to rent a car for the journey, we hope you've already made a reservation: bookings of rentals are roughly 19 percent higher than they were last year. And while Hertz's day rates may be slipping, elsewhere, they're on the rise. This holiday weekend, rental cars cost an average of $66 per day, up seven percent from 2016. 

We'd suggest avoiding pickup on Friday, if at all possible, since that's the busiest day for rentals. You might also consider pickup locations other than major airports in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orlando, Atlanta, and Denver, which tend to be the busiest in the nation.

Planning to skip the roads altogether and take to the skies? Expect even more frustrations. The number of air travelers is expected to climb 5.5 percent this Memorial Day, to 2.9 million Americans. On average, they'll be paying $181 for their round-trip tickets, an increase of nine percent.  

The remaining 1.75 million vacationers are expected to take other forms of transportation, including cruises and trains. Though those might seem less popular, they're catching on: ridership will be 2.9 percent above last year. 

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