BOISE – Boom. According to AAA, the Fourth of July holiday will go out with a bang this year, as nearly 48 million Americans, including 285,000 Idahoans, take a trip to see family and fireworks over the long weekend. That’s more than 14% of the population.
AAA projects a nearly 4% increase in travel, or 1.7 million additional people, from a year ago, with volumes nearly reaching pre-pandemic levels despite soaring gas prices that are well over the $5 mark in many parts of the country, pricey plane tickets, and higher hotel room rates.
“Consumer confidence is pretty shaky, and prices at the pump are unbelievably painful, but the people who are bound and determined to go on vacation are moving forward with their plans, even if they have to spend more to do it,” says AAA Idaho public affairs director Matthew Conde. “You might not see much steak on the grill over the holiday, but people are still trying to put the money together for a burger and a dog with their loved ones.”
This year, the holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, June 30 through Monday, July 4. The busiest times on the road will be Thursday and Friday afternoon, as travelers share the highway with the evening commute.
AAA says that unemployment levels are falling, credit and debit card spending are increasing, and restaurant dining is holding steady. Many Americans seem unwilling to cut back on their summer activities, at least for now.
Auto travel to set new record, air travel will keep climbing
AAA estimates that 42 million people, or 88% of all travelers, will go by car to celebrate the holiday, setting a new record for volume by this travel mode. During the pandemic, the ratio of auto travel spiked to 95%, as more people opted for the safety and convenience of a personal vehicle.
“The 4th of July is very much a road trip vacation. People equate the holiday with camping, boats, and toy trailers,” Conde said. “Expect the roads to be pretty busy at times, especially if you’re on a two-lane highway headed for the backcountry.”
As usual for the 4th of July holiday, theme parks, state parks and the National Parks will be among the most popular destinations for a quick getaway. But due to recent flooding in Yellowstone, access to one of the most popular parks in the country may be limited, and nearby Grand Teton National Park may be much busier than usual. The National Parks in Southern Utah are also extremely busy this time of year.
Air travel is expected to increase slightly, with 3.5 million people to fly this year.
Due to staff turnover, airlines have reduced the number of flights, which increases the likelihood of crowded airport terminals and full planes. AAA recommends booking early A.M. flights to avoid any unexpected delays that may accumulate throughout the day.
Other modes of transportation, such as cruises, trains, and buses, are also recovering, with about 2.5 million people expected to hit the high seas, board a bus or ride the rails this year.
Hotel prices climb, air fares rise, but rental car rates are slowing down
The average price for a AAA Two or Three Diamond hotel room is up 25% from a year ago, and airfares to the top U.S. destinations are up 14% from a year ago. But rental car inventories are slowly rebuilding, and daily rates will drop by an average of 34% this year.
“For additional peace of mind, travelers should book a room at a hotel that meets the standards of a ‘AAA Inspected Clean’ property,” Conde said. “Our full-time inspectors arrive unannounced to test the cleanliness of hotel rooms and common areas to make sure that they are comfortable for our members.” For more information, visit AAA.com/diamonds.
AAA to the rescue
AAA anticipates providing emergency road service to nearly 446,000 drivers nationwide, including nearly a thousand Idahoans – a 10% increase from a year ago. Dead batteries, flat tires, out of gas calls, and lockouts are some of the most common issues.
“We encourage drivers to make a smart B-E-T by having the battery, engine, and tires checked as part of a pre-trip inspection by a trusted mechanic,” Conde said. “When you’re heading out on vacation, the last thing you want to deal with is a costly repair that may have been prevented.”