A record-breaking 12.3 million California residents and 7.6 million Southern Californians will travel 50 miles or more between Dec. 23 and Jan. 3 – the largest number of local holiday travelers this century, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California’s holiday travel forecast. That’s a 1.3 percent increase over 2014.
Eighty-nine percent of travelers, or 6.8 million Southern Californians and 10.9 million statewide, will travel by car to their destinations – also a 1.3 percent increase from last year.
More than 598,000 local residents and 965,000 Californians are expected to fly, which is a 0.4 percent increase over 2014.
Nationally, AAA projects the number of travelers will top 100 million for the first time in the 21st century, increasing by 1.4 percent compared to last year’s Christmas-New Year holiday.
This year marks the seventh consecutive year of growth for end-of-year holiday travel.
“Southern Californians are taking advantage of days off at work and school to see family, friends and new destinations,” said Filomena Andre, the Auto Club’s vice president for travel products and services. “For some, it’s their biggest trip of the year and one they have planned for a long time. We expect that lower gas prices will also spur some last-minute getaways to driving destinations.”
Gas prices will be drastically lower over the holiday season than 2014 in most areas of the U.S. But the savings over last year will probably not be as great in Southern California, where the current average price of $2.75 a gallon in Los Angeles-Long Beach is just 15 cents lower than at this time last year. Gas prices are not dropping as quickly locally due to a refinery outage in Torrance that continues to affect supply. Nationwide, the average gas price is near $2 a gallon.
AAA’s analysis of average hotel, air and car rental expenses for this year’s holiday shows that average airfares from Los Angeles to several popular destinations will be mostly lower than at this time last year, but hotel rates at AAA 3 Diamond properties are up by an average of 4 percent and car rental rates at popular destinations are up an average of 3 percent over 2014.
The most popular destinations for Southern Californians over this Christmas-New Year holiday, according to a poll of Auto Club AAA Travel agents, are:
1) Las Vegas
2) San Francisco
3) San Diego
While year-end holiday travel will be spread out over a number of days, the Auto Club advises travelers that local freeways beginning this weekend will likely be more congested with holiday travelers.
Tips from the Auto Club for holiday drive trips:
- Get your car’s fluid levels and tires checked before leaving.
- Don't expect unclogged freeways, especially if you leave during the day and must travel along a popular route out of town. By adjusting your attitude to expect delays, you won't get as stressed out if you run into traffic.
- Call the California Highway Information Number at 800-427-7623, listen to local news traffic updates, or use real-time traffic maps on your computer before you leave, so you can know what to expect and choose the route that is best for you. Have a passenger use a real-time traffic app that can reroute you in case of a big backup.
- Leave an hour or even several hours ahead of when you would normally leave to drive somewhere if you must travel during peak periods. That will alleviate the stress of thinking you will not arrive in time.
- If traffic is really congested and your schedule allows, particularly if traveling with children, pull off the road and take a break.
- Stop at a restaurant or a park so everyone can stretch their legs.
- Don't text, read or otherwise manipulate electronic devices in a way that forces your eyes off the road and could cause a crash.
- Closely monitor the weather on travel days and dress appropriately. California has been receiving more rain this winter than in recent years, which can become snow at higher elevations, so road conditions may be more hazardous.
Tips for air travelers over the holidays:
- Send wrapped gifts ahead by mail instead of bringing them with you to avoid security issues and possibly having to unwrap the gifts if they’re in carry-on luggage.
- Arrive at the airport two to three hours ahead of time for domestic flights and three to four hours ahead of international flights to allow for security delays and crowds.
- Be aware of TSA restrictions on what you can pack in both checked and carry-on luggage. Complete updated information is at tsa.gov.
- Stay aware of your surroundings and never leave your bags unattended.
The year-end holiday forecast was conducted by IHS Global Insight on behalf of AAA. Historical travel data is provided by DK Shifflet, the world’s most comprehensive consumer travel measurement provider.