NEW YORK — Travelers will hit the roads, rails and skies this Thanksgiving holiday in their largest numbers in more than a decade, lured by cheap plane tickets and a growing economy, the nation’s largest motor advocacy group said.
Roughly 50.9 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more away from home Nov. 22-26, a 3.3 percent increase over last year and the most since 2005, Florida-based AAA said in a report released on Thursday.
“A strong economy and labor market are generating rising incomes and higher consumer confidence, fueling a strong year for the travel industry, which will continue into the holiday season,” Bill Sutherland, AAA senior vice president, said.
The largest share of travel, roughly 89 percent, will be on U.S. roads.
U.S. motorists will take 45.5 million trips this holiday, a 1.5 percent increase over last year and also the most since 2005, even though gas prices are at their highest since 2014, AAA said. Those holiday travelers will encounter obstacles and accidents along the way, as AAA expects to rescue more than 330,000 motorists this Thanksgiving weekend, with the primary reasons being lockouts, flat tires and battery-related issues.
Air travel is expected to grow by 5 percent to 3.95 million trips, buoyed by the cheapest tickets since 2013, AAA said.
It is the sixth consecutive year air travel has grown during the holiday, and now accounts now for 7.8 percent of all travel, its highest share since 2010, AAA said.
U.S. motor travel accounts for 10 percent of global demand, and is closely watched by global oil traders.
Overall, motorists are on pace this year to break the record for most vehicle miles driven on U.S. roads, helping spur potential record demand for gasoline.
U.S. gasoline demand and vehicle miles traveled both set records in 2016.
Gas prices jumped more than 10 percent after hurricanes Harvey and Irma, peaking on Sept. 8 at an average of $2.67 a gallon. Prices were at $2.56 a gallon on Wednesday, about 10 percent above last year, AAA said.
Many travelers will seek theme park and warm-weather destinations this Thanksgiving. Both Orlando, Fla., and Anaheim, Calif., top this year’s top-10 holiday destinations based on AAA.com bookings. Compared to previous years, New York City, Las Vegas and San Francisco are gaining popularity as holiday spots.