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Record Numbers to Travel for Christmas-New Year's Holiday, As The Calendar Provides Pair of Holiday Weekends for Vacationers

Two holiday weekends during the period will likely push Christmas-New Year's holiday travel to its highest level ever, according to AAA. AAA estimates that 62.7 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday, a 3 percent increase from last year's 60.8 million travelers.

"With Christmas and New Year's Day both falling on Saturdays, many people will make weekend getaways to be with friends and family," said AAA Travel Vice President Sandra Hughes.

"There is a downside to having both holidays fall on weekends, though," said Hughes. "Last year provided separate week-long windows for typical Saturday-to-Saturday vacations built around either Christmas or New Year's; this year, there's really just the one week that includes the two holidays. As a result, competition for space at beach destinations, on cruise ships and at ski resorts has been much greater than last year."

Approximately 50.9 million travelers (81 percent of all holiday travelers) expect to go by motor vehicle, a 2.9 percent increase from the 49.4 million who drove a year ago.

Another 8.6 million (14 percent of holiday travelers) plan to travel by airplane, up 3.5 percent from the 8.3 million that flew last Christmas-New Year's holiday. A projected 3.2 million travelers (5 percent) will go by train, bus, or other mode of transportation, up from 3.1 million a year ago.

Holiday auto travelers will find gas prices nationwide currently averaging $1.84 for a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline--down 13 cents during the last month, but about 37 cents higher than a year ago.

Other travel costs are down from last year, with AAA's Leisure Travel Index showing holiday airfares down 6.0 percent from last year, reflecting expanded service by discount airlines. Holiday hotel rates buck recent price increases, falling 1.4 percent from last year. Rental car rates increase slightly, up 2.3 percent from 2003.

"Although many cruise ships and tropical resorts filled earlier and at higher rates this year, many deals can still be found for travelers looking to visit family or escape for some holiday fun," said Hughes. "Moderate consumer confidence and increased confidence in travel security will spur nearly one in four holiday travelers to head for true winter vacation destinations like beaches and mountains."

The greatest number of holiday auto travelers will originate in the Southeast with 13.3 million, followed by the West, 12.9 million; Midwest, 10.3 million; the Great Lakes, 8.0 million; and the Northeast, 6.4 million.

The Southeast is expected to produce the largest number of air travelers with 2.5 million, just ahead of the West, with 2.4 million. They are followed by the Northeast, 1.7 million; Midwest, 1.1 million; and Great Lakes with 900,000.

Santa Claus won't be the only one visiting homes this holiday, as 60 percent of travelers expect to stay at a friend or relative's home. Hotels and motels are the choice for 25 percent, followed by rented cabin/condo, 4 percent; owned cabin/condo, 3 percent; camper/trailer/RV/tent, 1 percent; other, 2 percent; no overnight stay, 2 percent; and didn't know, 3 percent.

Cities are the expected destination for 40 percent of Christmas-New Year's travelers, followed by towns/rural areas, 29 percent. Oceans and beaches are popular, getting 15 percent of travelers, followed by mountain areas, 7 percent; 2 percent for lake areas; and 1 percent each for theme/amusement parks and state/national parks. Another 4 percent responded with other, and 1 percent said they didn't know.

Research for holiday travel is based on economic modeling and a national telephone survey of 1,397 adults by the Travel Industry Association of America, which conducts special research for AAA.

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