After a year of negligible growth - 0.2 percent - in Turkey Day travel last year, and a 25.2 percent plunge in holiday travel in 2008, the projected double-digit increase this Thanksgiving signifies an important upturn, AAA said.
"While Americans remain cautious with household budgets and discretionary spending, this year's projected increase appears to be the result of the modestly improved economy," said Rick Remington, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
A national poll conducted by Maritz Research in October found fewer people cited money worries as a reason to stay home: Nearly one-third, or 31 percent, said in 2009 that concerns about finances played a role in their decision to stay home during the holiday season, compared with 25 percent this year.
Holiday travel in general is experiencing an uptick. U.S. airlines will carry 24 million people, 3.5 percent more than in 2009, in the extended holiday period starting Friday through Monday, Nov. 29, said the trade group representing the nation's largest airlines.
Planes are expected to be nearly full, with average load factors of 90 percent on the busiest days, the Air Transport Association said.
Holiday airfares are up 4 percent from last year, with an average lowest round-trip rate of $176 for the top 40 U.S. air routes, according to AAA.
"Finally we see a silver lining for the travel industry, which is rebounding from a $4.05 billion loss during 2009's holiday season," said Rick Garlick, pollster and statistician for Maritz Research, based in St. Louis.
While the increase in Thanksgiving travel is significant, it remains almost 30 percent below the 2005 peak of 58.6 million travelers, AAA said.
The majority of American travelers plan to hit the road for Thanksgiving, despite recent increases in gas prices. AAA said the current national average price of self-serve regular gasoline was $2.89 a gallon, 26 cents more than a year ago. The average per-gallon price of gasoline will be from $2.85 to $2.95 over the holiday period, AAA said.
Contact staff writer Linda Loyd
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