Lower gas prices and improved personal finances are prompting more Southern Californians to travel this Thanksgiving, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California, which is predicting 3.5 million local residents and 5.65 million statewide will take a holiday getaway. That’s a 3.8 percent increase from last year.
The number of those traveling at least 50 miles from home between Wednesday, Nov. 26 and Sunday, Nov. 30 is the highest for the Thanksgiving holiday since 2007, when 4 million Southern Californians took trips.
For both Southern California and the state, 85 percent of travelers are expected to drive and 11 percent are expected to go by air. About 3.01 million Southern Californians will travel by car – a 3.9 percent increase over 2013. More than 379,000 are projected to fly, which is a 2.7 percent increase from last year. Statewide, 4.85 million will drive to holiday destinations, and 610,000 will go by plane.
"As Californians see improvements in jobs and household worth this year, they are more willing to spend on travel,” said Auto Club spokesman Jeffrey Spring. "An added bonus for travel budgets has been dramatically lower gas prices in the past two months. Consumers have more money in their pocket to plan trips, and this Thanksgiving’s travel will cost them less by car and just 1 percent higher than last year on average by air.”
Nationally, 46.3 million people are expected to travel over this holiday weekend, which is an increase of 4.2 percent from last year. Eighty-nine percent, or 41.2 million, will drive to their destinations, and 3.5 million are expected to fly.
The top five destinations for Southern California travelers, according to a survey of the Auto Club’s AAA Travel agents, are:
1) Las Vegas
2) San Francisco
3) San Diego
4) Grand Canyon
5) Santa Barbara and Central Coast
Gas prices in Los Angeles and much of the Southland are rapidly heading toward an average price of $3 a gallon and are now about 40 cents lower on average than at this time last year.
According to IHS Global Insight, which conducts holiday travel research and calculates holiday travel projections for AAA, travelers on the West Coast of the U.S. are planning to spend about $700 this year on their Thanksgiving trips, and the average trip distance for them will be 434 miles. Last year, West Coast residents spent an average of $681 and traveled an average of 795 miles.
Among this year’s projected Thanksgiving travelers, 46 percent have household incomes below $50,000, 33 percent have incomes between $50,000 and $100,000, and 22 percent have incomes over $100,000. In 2013, 36 percent of travelers had household incomes below $50,000, 33 percent had incomes between $50,000 and $100,000, and 31 percent had incomes above $100,000.
As usual, this Wednesday is expected to be the most popular day for outbound travel, while Sunday is expected to be the day when most travelers return home. The Auto Club recommends using real-time traffic tools online before hitting the road, but drivers should keep in mind that traffic volume can increase suddenly during the holiday rush. Also, air travelers should plan to arrive at the airport at least two hours early for domestic flights and three hours ahead of time for international travel.