Memorial Day Travelers Face Headwinds

NEW YORK ( -- Travelers taking to the road this Memorial Day weekend face soaring costs as prices at the pump continued their record run Friday.

The nationwide average for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline rose to $3.875, up from $3.831 the previous day, according to the most recent reading from motorist group AAA. That's the 16th consecutive record for gas prices, which have now risen for 17 straight days.

Retail gas prices are up nearly 10% from a month ago and have climbed more than 20% in the last 12 months. Last Memorial Day weekend, drivers only had to shell out an average of $3.23 for a gallon of gas.

The surge in prices is keeping some drivers off the road. For the first time since 2002, Americans plan to drive less on Memorial Day weekend than they did the year before, according to AAA.

The number of Americans traveling 50 or more miles from home this holiday weekend will slip by 0.9% to 37.87 million, the motorist group forecast last week.

"Most people are going to travel closer to home this year, and they're going to take fewer trips," said AAA spokesman Mike Pina.

Among the estimated 12% of Americans who will be traveling this weekend, AAA said 31.7 million people, or 83%, are expected to drive. That's slightly fewer than the 32 million Memorial Day drivers a year ago.

But the survey was conducted during the last week of April, when gas was only at $3.50 a gallon. Alaska, Connecticut, Illinois, New York, California, Hawaii and Michigan are now all averaging over $4 per gallon. Only Wyoming and Arizona have an average that's under $3.70 a gallon.

A Deloitte & Touche survey of more than 1,000 Americans conducted May 12-14 found that, as a result of the rise in gas prices, 23% of Americans have altered their Memorial Day weekend travel plans.

Deloitte & Touche found that 12% of would-be travelers are cancelling their vacation plans altogether, and 11% plan on traveling closer to home.

The average traveler is expected to drive 91 miles from home this weekend, according to the Deloitte & Touche survey. With an average car that gets 23 miles per gallon, that 91-mile trip will cost drivers $15.33. Last year, that same trip would have cost $12.78.

Air travel will give travelers no respite from high fuel costs: For the 11% of travelers who plan on flying, the price of a ticket will be 8% higher than it was last year. Most U.S. air carriers have announced a fuel surcharge that will be added to ticket prices this spring.

Much of the run-up in gasoline can be attributed to record crude oil prices, which have more than doubled over the past year and surpassed $135 a barrel Thursday.

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