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AAA predicting busiest Thanksgiving travel since 2007

Amtrak passengers at New York's Pennsylvania Station last year. This year, AAA says, an improved economy should help boost the number of Thanksgiving travelers.
Amtrak passengers at New York's Pennsylvania Station last year. This year, AAA says, an improved economy should help boost the number of Thanksgiving travelers.Read moreAP

More Americans will be traveling this year for their turkey, football, and pumpkin pie because of the improving economy and the lowest November gasoline prices in years, AAA reports.

About 48.7 million Americans are expected to take a car, plane, bus, or train at least 50 miles from home over the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, an increase of 1.9 percent, according to AAA, the nation's largest automobile club.

The majority, about 43.5 million, or 89 percent, plan to drive, also up 1.9 percent over last year.

"The economy is doing good enough, but even more than that consumers are really starting to spend money now," said Shane Norton, travel and tourism director for IHS Markit, a business information services company that conducts holiday travel analysis for AAA. "Consumers' personal income is rising pretty well, but their willingness to spend is even stronger.

"We are seeing consumers extend themselves a bit, which is very good for discretionary decisions like travel," Norton said.

In the Philadelphia region, AAA Mid-Atlantic estimates that 569,000 people in the city and its Pennsylvania suburbs will travel at least 50 miles for the holiday this year, a 1 percent increase from 2015 and the most travelers since 2007.

In New Jersey, 1.3 million are expected to travel for Thanksgiving, a 4.3 percent increase over last year.

The number of air travelers nationally will rise 1.6 percent, to 3.7 million, in the holiday travel period, next Wednesday to Nov. 27, according to AAA. An additional 1.44 million will travel by other transportation, including cruises, trains, and buses.

In the five-county Southeastern Pennsylvania area, Turkey Day air travel will be relatively flat, up 0.8 percent, with more than 49,000 getting on planes. Total travel volume will be up for the eighth year, AAA said.

"Most Philadelphia-area residents will take a tried and true holiday road trip, thanks to gas prices that are holding just under $2.40 per gallon," said Jana Tidwell, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Gas prices have been in constant flux, Tidwell said. "We're hovering in the Philly region just a penny above last year, but nationally we are a penny below last year's price. But give it another week and a half to get to Thanksgiving. With crude oil prices dropping below $50 a barrel recently, it looks like we'll have the lowest gas prices since 2008.

"Every year since 2008, when everything tanked with the recession, travel has steadily increased. In 2007, we saw a peak in travel for the holiday. This year is the most since then."

Philadelphia ranks No. 9 among the top 10 destinations for Thanksgiving travel, based on bookings.  The top 10 U.S. destinations for Thanksgiving are Las Vegas; San Francisco; San Diego; Orlando; New York; New Orleans; Anaheim, Calif.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Philadelphia; and Seattle.

Airlines for America, the trade group for U.S. airlines, expects that Thanksgiving air travel will be up 2.5 percent, to 27.3 million passengers, between Friday and Nov. 29. Airlines will be adding 74,000 seats each day during the 12-day period by flying larger planes and adding flights, the group said.