While it’s expected to be the third-highest number of Thanksgiving travelers since the recession, the total number of Southern Californians taking holiday trips is projected to decline by 4 percent compared to last year, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California.
The Auto Club estimates that 3.22 million Southland residents and 5.18 million Californians will travel a distance of at least 50 miles over the holiday period of Wednesday, Nov. 27 through Sunday, Dec. 1.
For both Southern California and the state, 86 percent of travelers are expected to drive and 10 percent are expected to go by air. Both car and air travel are expected to drop by about 4 percent. About 2.77 million Southern Californians will travel by car, while 331,000 will fly. Statewide, 4.46 million will drive to holiday destinations, and 533,000 will go by plane.
While the number of travelers is expected to be lower than in 2011 and 2012, it is still about 10 percent higher than in 2008 and 2009, when the recession brought Thanksgiving travel to its lowest point in more than a decade. Continued high unemployment in California, higher tax rates and higher travel costs are being cited as the reasons for this year’s drop.
"Consumers are aware that it is far more expensive to travel during the holidays than during other non-peak times of the year, particularly in the last two years as airfares have risen and the numbers of available airline seats have dropped," said Filomena Andre, the Auto Club's vice president for travel. "Many of our members are opting to take leisure trips when they can get more value for their vacation dollar."
Nationally, 43.4 million people are expected to travel over this holiday weekend, which is a decrease of 1.5 percent from last year. Ninety percent, or 38.9 million, will drive to their destinations, and 3.1 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) San Diego
2) Las Vegas
3) San Francisco
4) Central Coast (Santa Barbara to Monterey)
5) Grand Canyon
According to IHS Global Insight, which conducts holiday travel research and calculates holiday travel projections for AAA, this year’s holiday travelers are planning to spend about 6 percent less on their trips than in 2012 - $465 for the average U.S. family and $681 for families living in the U.S. Pacific region*. The average U.S. family will travel 601 miles round trip for Thanksgiving vacation, while those in the U.S. Pacific region will average 795 miles.*
Among this year’s projected Thanksgiving travelers, 36 percent have household incomes below $50,000, 33 percent have incomes between $50,000 and $100,000, and 31 percent have incomes above $100,000. In 2012, 34 percent of Thanksgiving travelers had household incomes lower than $50,000, 38 percent had incomes from $50,000 to $100,000 and 28 percent had incomes over $100,000.
The most popular day for Thanksgiving travelers to depart this year will be Wednesday, Nov. 27, when 37 percent plan to leave, and the most popular return date will be Sunday, Dec. 1, when 33 percent plan to come home.
The Auto Club recommends that travelers get eight hours of sleep before driving to holiday destinations, since many drivers may try to beat traffic by leaving early in the morning or late at night. “Drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving, and a new AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey reveals that 28 percent of drivers admitted to driving drowsy at least once in the past month,” said Auto Club spokesman Jeffrey Spring.
*The U.S. Pacific Region includes Hawaii, which tends to skew the average travel distance and expense higher due to the higher number of air travelers among Hawaii Thanksgiving travelers.