Headed home for the holidays? So are more than 100 million other Americans, by air, by road and by other means.
About 91 million of those travelers will be driving. Cheap gas and rising household income are fueling more car trips this year of at least 50 miles between Wednesday and Jan. 3, 2016, according to the AAA.
On Monday, the group announced that the average price per gallon for gas nationwide had dropped below $2 — its lowest level since March 2009.
The national average is actually $1.9998 for those keeping count, but some metro gas stations were charging as little as $1.66 Tuesday, according to Twin Cities Gas Buddy. The national average gas price is about 41 cents less than last year.
The price of gas is a significant economic indicator because more than 90 percent of travelers plan to drive to their holiday destinations, up about 1.4 percent over last year.
“With gas prices low, people are able to budget more trips; they’re feeling more confident,” said Sabrina Caprioli, a AAA spokeswoman based in the Twin Cities. The association estimates that cheaper gas prices have saved Americans more than $115 billion so far this year — roughly $550 per driver.
“I am so, so stoked for low gas prices,” said Sylvia Jennings, a University of Minnesota sophomore, who was gassing up at Bobby and Steve’s Tuesday before heading home to Madison, Wis., for the holiday break. “I like cheap gas.”
More fliers, bigger planes
Millions more will fly to their holiday destinations.
Air travel between Dec. 18 and Jan. 3, 2016, is expected to increase more than 3 percent — about 73,000 more travelers when compared with last year, according to Airlines for America, a Washington, D.C.-based industry trade group. All told, the group predicts some 38 million people will fly during the 17-day holiday period this year.
Airlines have added capacity to accommodate additional travelers, mostly by using larger aircraft, the group noted. Planes are expected to be 80 percent to 90 percent full over the holiday period. The busiest travel days are expected to be Sunday, Jan. 3; Friday, Dec. 18, and Sunday, Dec. 27.
The lightest travel days are typically Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
“We attribute the increase to the improving economy and the fact that airfare remains affordable, having declined 4.3 percent through the first nine months of the year,” said John Heimlich, vice president and chief economist for Airlines for America, in a statement.
Late Tuesday afternoon it was calm at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. A long line had formed at the giant Checkpoint 6, but it appeared to be moving quickly. Checkpoint 2 was less crowded.
Gas may go even lower
AAA says gas prices have dropped because there are more than enough oil and gasoline supplies worldwide to meet demand. Plus, gas prices usually drop through early winter anyway, because fewer people drive in foul weather.
If you’re headed to see the in-laws in Kansas City, Mo., gas up there: It has cheapest metro average in the country — $1.68 per gallon.
“There is room for [gas] prices to drop even more in the coming weeks,” AAA President and CEO Marshall Doney, said in a statement.
Gas prices probably will remain low through January and could decline even more if the cost of crude oil remains weak, AAA said. By late winter, prices will likely creep up as more refineries conduct maintenance, which reduces production.
Rick Ihli, who travels 40,000 miles a year for his job in business development for Sysco, says lower gas prices have been a boost to his wallet.
Is he doing any holiday travel?
“You drive 40,000 miles a year, you stay at home,” he said.