Memorial Day travel to soar 60% even as gas prices rise nationwide

Las Vegas is the top road trip destination for Memorial Day travel in 2021, says AAA Travel.

Hisham Ibrahim | Photographer’s Choice RF | Getty Images

Travel looks set to continue its rebound during the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, which traditionally marks the start of the summer vacation season, with AAA Travel predicting a 60% year-over-year jump in the number of Americans hitting the rails, airports and roads— even as gas prices soar to levels not seen in seven years.

Domestic destinations and motor trips will be the top picks for the more than 37 million people expected to travel between May 27 to 31, the organization predicts. The rebound reflects both pent-up demand and higher vaccination rates, according to AAA Travel senior vice president Paula Twidale.

“As more people get the Covid-19 vaccine and consumer confidence grows, Americans are demonstrating a strong desire to travel this Memorial Day,” she said in a statement. “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.”

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An outbreak of new Covid variants or other unknown factors could impact the travel recovery, Twidale cautioned.

Also possibly putting the brakes on some road trips could be gas prices, which are expected to top $3 a gallon in many parts of the country due to high demand and a temporary shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline following a cyberattack.

The soaring price for fuel is the highest predicted national average for gasoline since 2014, according to AAA Travel. It probably won’t dent many Americans’ determination to set out on the road, however. More than 9 in 10 U.S. vacationers, some 34 million, will travel by car this Memorial Day — a 52% annual jump over 2020, although that’s still 9% lower than 2019.

“We don’t expect higher gas prices to deter motorists this holiday season as many Americans are eager to travel,” said AAA spokesperson Jeanette C. McGee, in a statement.  “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.”

Where are Americans headed this Memorial Day?

AAA Travel has tracked an uptick in online visits and bookings at AAA.com for both hotels and car rentals, and Las Vegas and Orlando, Florida, are the two top destinations. Here’s a look at the top road trip destinations and where people are booking overall:

Where Americans are heading for Memorial Day

Road Trips:

  1. Las Vegas
  2. Orlando, Florida
  3. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
  4. Denver
  5. Nashville, Tennessee

AAA Travel Bookings:

  1. Orlando, Florida
  2. Las Vegas
  3. Honolulu
  4. Anchorage, Alaska
  5. Colorado Springs, Colorado

Source: AAA Travel

Hotspots like Honolulu and Anchorage are obviously fly-to destinations for most, and 2.5 million Americans will board planes this holiday. That’s six times more than in 2020, rocketing 557%, but 750,000 fewer flyers than in 2019.

Just 237,000 vacationers will travel by bus or train, the lowest volume on record apart from 2020, according to AAA Travel.

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