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High costs squeezing travel

The AAA estimates there will be only a slight rise in the number of people flying and driving this season.

December 18, 2007|Victoria Kim | Times Staff Writer

Between steep increases in airfare and sky-high gasoline prices, there's no place like home for the holidays.

More Americans will hit the road this season than last, but the increase will be the smallest since 2003, according to AAA estimates released Monday.

The number of people who will fly or drive 50 or more miles from their homes will grow a modest 0.7% this year from 2006, compared with a 2.2% hike last year over 2005, the American Automobile Assn. said.

And they'll be paying 16% more for airfares and 30% more -- or 70 cents -- for a gallon of gasoline.

"Gasoline prices remain at unprecedented levels for this time of year," Robert Darbelnet, president and chief executive of AAA, said in a statement.

Pump prices rose 12 cents a gallon between 2005 and 2006, and there was no change in average airfare.

In Southern California, 5.6 million people are expected to travel, up 0.2%. Considering that the region's population is greater now than last year at this time, that statistical uptick might be misleading, said Marie Montgomery of the Automobile Club of Southern California. "It might be an indicator that [travel] is slowing down a bit."

Some people are adjusting their plans, choosing closer destinations or looking for bargains, Montgomery said. Higher costs affect travel around Christmas and New Year more than Thanksgiving, she added, because the November holiday is much shorter and people tend to take long vacations at the end of the year, not just quick visits to see friends and family.

In fact, record numbers of Americans clogged airways and highways this Thanksgiving despite the increase in travel costs.

When it comes to leisure travel, that "may be more where people have a choice," she said, "so they'll try to economize and choose a cheaper trip or cancel the trip entirely."

Mark Liberman, president of LA Inc., the city's convention and visitors bureau, said he wasn't worried, noting that warm winter weather and the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 were always big draws. "We're always concerned about economic conditions, but from the occupancy we see in our hotels and the load factors that the airlines are carrying, we think it will be another good season."

Nationwide, the AAA forecast is for air travel to slip by 0.3% and for car travel to go up 0.9% Dec. 20 to Jan. 2. The auto club said a total of 65.2 million people would be on the road or in the air.

Southland airports expect a smooth holiday season with no drastic increases in passengers from last year. Los Angeles World Airports, which operates Los Angeles International and Ontario International airports, will release its estimates Wednesday.

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