Grounded: Fewer Americans Set to Travel This Thanksgiving

Traffic Jam

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Expect Thanksgiving roads to be 1.6 percent less congested and the friendly skies 3.7 percent roomier. At least, that is what AAA is predicting in its forecast for 2013 Thanksgiving travel. There will be approximately 43.4 million travelers over the Thanksgiving holiday, which AAA defines as November 27 to December 1. This is a 1.5 percent decline from last year’s 44 million.

Those hitting the road, about 38.9 million, will benefit from lower fuel prices. AAA reports that people driving over the holiday are likely to have the cheapest fuel prices since 2010. For the 3.14 million in the air, there is little money saved: The average, lowest-cost roundtrip fare by AAA estimates is $187; last year’s lowest fare was $188.

For all travelers, AAA says that Thanksgiving is the least expensive travel holiday. “The primary focus of Thanksgiving, more so than any other holiday, is to gather with friends, family and loved ones and celebrate with each other. Travelers attempting to carve out a travel budget will be happy to know that Thanksgiving will be the least expensive holiday of the year,” AAA Chief Operating Officer Marshall L. Doney said.

According to AAA, less people will travel farther, this year logging an average of 601 miles compared to 588 miles. They will also spend less money. Median spending is expected to be $465, a 6.6 percent decrease from 2012′s $498.

Airlines for America (A4A), an airline trade organization, predicted different holiday travel statistics earlier in November. It looked at the period of November 22 through December 3 and said travel over this time frame would increase compared to last year. The organization believes 25.1 million passengers will fly on U.S. airlines in that timeframe, an increase of 1.5 percent.

A4A Vice President John Heimlich said that compared to 2000, airline travel in real dollars is less expensive. A4A says the busiest days to fly will be November 27 and December 1 and 2. A4A calculated that airlines would increase the number of available seats by 2 percent to meet demand.

In 2012, the airline that carried the most domestic passengers in November was Delta (NYSE:DAL), according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Passengers ticked up across the board in November 2012 to 0.8 percent compared to November 2011. The number of flights declined by 1.7 percent during this period, but there were more seats available on aircrafts.

For Thanksgiving arrivals and departures last year, Delta was on time 93 percent of the time, according to the DoT. United Airlines, part of United Continental Holdings (NYSE:UAL), had an on-time departure rate of 87 percent and on-time arrivals of 89 percent.

Year-over-year diluted earnings per share for Delta increased in the third quarter from $1.23 to $1.59 per share. United Continental Holdings also reported a diluted earnings per share increase of 98 cents for third quarter 2013 compared to 2 cents in 2012.

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