Lower gas prices, sunny forecast for Labor Day travel
CHARLOTTE — An improving economy, higher consumer confidence and lower gas prices are expected to drive a 5 percent increase in Labor Day travel this weekend by North Carolinians, according to AAA Carolinas.
An expected 972,600 North Carolina residents will travel more than 50 miles from home during the five-day Labor Day holiday travel period, which is defined as Thursday, Aug. 29, through Monday, Sept. 2.
"As the economy has steadily improved in the Carolinas, more families will take advantage of the last holiday weekend of the summer," said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. "Beyond that, gas prices heading into this weekend are the lowest they've been for any Labor Day holiday since 2010."
Since rising to a summer high of $3.56 on July 21, North Carolina gas prices have fallen to $3.46 today — nearly 8 percent lower than the $3.72 average heading into Labor Day weekend last year. For Labor Day 2011, gas prices in North Carolina averaged $3.57 and in 2010 they were $2.58.
Gas prices remain low in spite of Mideast tensions due to abundant oil supplies, refineries operating at high capacity and no current threat of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.
Last year, Hurricane Isaac dampened Labor Day travel in the Carolinas, resulting in poor weather and a sharp spike in gas prices that deterred many last-minute travelers. This year, the National Weather Service forecasts a pleasant weekend ahead, with mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the 80s throughout most of the East Coast.
The most expensive gas in the state can be found in Raleigh at $3.52 and the least expensive is in Fayetteville at $3.38.
Motorists, who represent about 86 percent or 837,400 of North Carolina holiday travelers, will encounter cheaper prices this weekend at the gas pumps in Virginia ($3.36), Tennessee ($3.33) and South Carolina ($3.24), which has the lowest average gas in the country. Gas prices are the same in Georgia at $3.46.
"Drivers can save money on gas by not speeding, using cruise control and avoiding quick starts and stops," said Parsons. "To improve your safety on the road, rest every two hours or 100 miles and avoid drinking and driving or texting behind the wheel."
The majority of travelers (46 percent) will leave on Friday, Aug. 30, and 43 percent will return on Monday, Sept. 2, with another 42 percent returning on Tuesday, Sept. 3.
The most popular driving destinations for Carolina travelers are Asheville, Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Charlotte and San Francisco, according to AAA Vacations, the largest leisure travel agency in the Carolinas, which tracks personalized drive trip routings.
AAA Vacations saw a 7 percent increase in hotel bookings, 12 percent increase in car rentals and 5 percent increase in cruises this Labor Day compared to last year. Top leisure destinations are Orlando, Vancouver/Seattle, London, Salt Lake City and Charleston.
Airline travelers are expected to number 76,800 or about 8 percent of all North Carolina Labor Day travelers, and another 6 percent, or 58,400, will travel by other modes such as bus, train or boat. Airfares have increased 4 percent this year, with an average lowest round-trip rate of $214 for the top 40 U.S. air routes, according to AAA's Leisure Travel Index.
Hotel rates have increased about 4 percent for AAA Three Diamond hotels, averaging $161 per night compared to $154 last year, while rates for AAA Two Diamond hotels have decreased about 2 percent from $117 to $115 per night. AAA rates hotels from one to five Diamonds based on standards in physical attributes, hospitality and amenities. AAA Three Diamond hotels represent the largest number of AAA rated accommodations.
Car rental rates are up 32 percent from $39 per day in 2012 to $51 this year, due to lower inventories.
Throughout North Carolina, law enforcement officers will be in full effect for the "Booze It & Lose It" campaign, which started on Aug. 16 and runs through Labor Day, Sept. 2. The campaign includes checkpoints and stepped-up patrols in an effort to remove intoxicated drivers from the roads.