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Thanksgiving travel expected to hit a 12-year high

AAA says consumer confidence, along with rising income, is fueling the increase in travel plans.

Travelers make their way through 30th Street Station ahead of the Thanksgiving Day holiday last year.
Travelers make their way through 30th Street Station ahead of the Thanksgiving Day holiday last year.Read moreAP

More Americans will be traveling this year for their turkey, football, and pumpkin pie than in a decade, fueled by consumer confidence and more disposable income, AAA reports.

About 50.9 million are expected to take a car, plane, bus, or train trip at least 50 miles from home over the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, an increase of 3.3 percent and the most travelers since 2005, according to AAA, the nation's largest automobile club.

"We have what we think is an excellent combination for travel: a confidant consumer that is also backed by rising income and disposable income, more importantly," said Shane Norton, a director at IHS Markit, a business information services company that conducts holiday travel analysis for AAA.

"Sometimes people had rising income, but the consumer mood was cautious and it held back spending. Other times, we had an exuberant consumer, but they just didn't have the resources to spend on discretionary travel," Norton said. "Right now, we have both. Despite some long-term concerns from these surveys, people are really confident, some of the highest levels that we've seen in a decade."

The majority of Americans, about 45.5 million, plan to drive for the holiday period that begins next Wednesday to Sunday, Nov. 26. The number flying will be up 5 percent, to 3.95 million. Airfares are 23 percent cheaper this year on the top 40 domestic flight routes, with an average round-trip ticket costing $157, AAA said.

Locally, 602,069 in Philadelphia and its Pennsylvania suburbs are expected to travel for Thanksgiving, up 3.5 percent.

In New Jersey, 1.3 million plan to take trips, a 3.5 percent increase over last year.

Car rental daily rates will hit a five-year holiday high, $70 a day, nationwide, AAA said. Hotel rates will average $176 a night, up 14 percent, for top AAA three-diamond-rated hotels, while the typical rate for AAA two-diamond hotels has dropped 5 percent, to an average nightly rate of $117.

Motorists will pay the highest Thanksgiving gas prices since 2014.

In the five-county Philadelphia area, gasoline averaged $2.77 a gallon on Thursday, 42 cents higher than a year ago when gas prices averaged $2.35 a gallon. In New Jersey, gasoline averaged $2.59 on Thursday, up 35 cents from last year's $2.24 a gallon, said Tracy Noble, AAA spokeswoman in New Jersey. National gas prices average $2.56 a gallon, compared with $2.15 a year ago.

"Unfortunately, the price of crude oil has increased over the past several weeks," Noble said. "We saw prices decline drastically when crude oil was below $50 per barrel. But in the past couple weeks, we've seen the crude oil price close at about $56 per barrel. Once it reaches above that $50 mark, we tend to see prices at the pump increase, as well."

Airlines for America, the trade group for U.S. airlines, expects that Thanksgiving air travel will be up 3 percent, to 28.5 million U.S. passengers, between Friday and Nov. 28, a broader travel period than the AAA predictions. Airlines will add 86,000 seats each day during the 12-day period by flying larger planes and adding flights, the group said. The busiest travel day is projected to be Sunday, Nov. 26.

An estimated 392,102 passengers will depart Philadelphia International Airport during Thanksgiving week, according to airfare app Hopper and InsureMyTrip, a travel insurance comparison website. The nation's busiest airports will be Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Chicago, each handling one million or more travelers.