BOISE – Memorial Day travel is back in a big way.  According to AAA, 43.8 million Americans, including nearly 262,000 Idahoans, will journey 50 miles or more from home to celebrate the holiday weekend – 1.8 million more than a year ago, and 1 million more than in 2019.

“In recent years, travel has recovered in phases, and now we anticipate the second highest travel volume for Memorial Day weekend, just below 2005 numbers,” says AAA Idaho public affairs director Matthew Conde.  “Travel and discretionary spending are still increasing despite lingering concerns about the economy.  Clearly, many people see vacations as an important investment in their quality of life.”

Memorial Day Travel Forecast 2024

AAA says that the best times to drive are on Thursday and Friday morning before the holiday.  The worst times on the road will be Thursday and Friday afternoon (when vacationers will be sharing the road with the evening commute) and Monday afternoon for the return trip.

“A critical part of any vacation is the pre-trip car inspection.  It’s better to discover a problem in a repair shop than on the side of the road, when family gatherings await and time is of the essence,” Conde said.  “Make sure your battery, engine, and tires are in good shape before you head out.”

Top travel destinations

The top ten list for Idahoans this Memorial Day weekend is:

  1. Anaheim, CA
  2. Salt Lake City, UT
  3. Las Vegas, NV
  4. Yellowstone/Grand Teton National Parks
  5. Orlando, FL
  6. Honolulu, HI
  7. Oregon Coast
  8. Seattle, WA
  9. Phoenix, AZ
  10. Denver, CO

The National Parks Service reported 325.5 million visits to parks, monuments, and other sites last year.  The most-visited parks were Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Zion, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Yosemite, Acadia, Grand Teton, Joshua Tree, and Olympic National Park.

Travel by the numbers

This year will set a new record for travel by car, with 38.4 million Americans expected to load up in the family truckster and head out on the holiday road.  At times, traffic may be nearly twice as congested as usual in some parts of the country.

“Please buckle up and drive at appropriate speeds.  Getting there safely is always more important than getting there sooner,” Conde said.  “You may want to build in some extra time if you’re heading up into the backcountry on a two-lane road for a camping or RV trip.”

More than 3.5 million people will fly, nearly a 5% jump year over year.  And other modes of travel, including cruises, trains, and buses, will fully recover to pre-pandemic levels with a 5.6% increase to 1.9 million people.

The Memorial Day holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, May 23 through Monday, May 27. 

Memorial Day budget considerations

Domestic airfare is about 2% more expensive than a year ago, with the average round-trip ticket costing $778.  Hotels are about 5% cheaper this Memorial Day weekend, with the average three-night stay coming in at around $500.  Rental car rates are about 17% cheaper this year, which may help to offset the price of a plane ticket.

“People will trade down on food if that’s what it takes to pull off a vacation.  Many mid-level hotel properties offer a free breakfast, and some even serve complimentary appetizers or a light dinner as well,” Conde said.  “Families can also select a hotel with a kitchenette so that some meals can be prepared in the room to help cut back on expenses.”

AAA to the rescue

Over the Memorial Day weekend, AAA anticipates 432,000 requests for roadside assistance, including 700 in Idaho.  Most vehicle disablements involve dead batteries, flat tires, out of gas, engine belt or fluid issues, or vehicle lockouts.  AAA members can call 1-800-AAA-HELP for service.

Gas/crude oil dynamics

Today, the average price for a gallon of regular in the Gem State is $3.85, which is three cents less than a week ago and a penny less than a month ago, but ten cents more than a year ago.  The national average currently sits at $3.62 per gallon, which is also three cents cheaper than a week ago and a penny less than a month ago, but eight cents more than a year ago.

Idaho currently ranks 9th in the country for most expensive fuel behind California ($5.29), Hawaii ($4.80), Washington ($4.64), Nevada ($4.44), Oregon ($4.42), Alaska ($4.39), Arizona ($3.95), and Illinois ($3.92). 

“Modest fuel demand, elevated gasoline supplies, and crude oil currently under $80 per barrel have kept pump prices in check for the past few weeks,” Conde said.  “But the unofficial start of road trip season is just around the corner, and drivers understand that filling up is part of the equation.  The pain at the pump could be very real, but at this stage of the game, most people aren’t willing to give up on their summer vacation plans.”

Today, the West Texas Intermediate benchmark for crude oil is trading near $79 per barrel, which is 50 cents more than a week ago, $6 less than a month ago, and $8 more than a year ago.

According to the Energy Information Administration, regional refineries are producing at about the same rate as the rest of the country at 88.2% and 88.5% of capacity, respectively.  As robust production continues, it could help offset a rise in demand, at least temporarily.

Here’s a look at pump prices as of 5/13/24:

  • Boise – $3.90
  • Coeur d’Alene – $3.81
  • Franklin – $3.75
  • Idaho Falls – $3.74
  • Lewiston – $3.74
  • Pocatello – $3.88
  • Rexburg – $3.85
  • Twin Falls – $3.86