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‘Summer travel isn’t just heating up, it will be on fire’: More travelers are hitting the road this Memorial Day Weekend, but will pay more for airfares and gas prices

By Andrew Keshner

Record gas prices are fueling the melt of consumers’ wallets. Decades-high inflation for just about everything else is keeping up the heat too. What’s more, somewhere, somehow a recession might be lurking , according to some economic prognosticators.

But is any of that financial friction going to make a difference in travel plans this Memorial Day Weekend, the kick off to summer travel?

Not likely. More than two years into the pandemic, people are eager to get away.

An extra three million Americans expected to travel this Memorial Day Weekend compared to last year, according to projections from AAA on the start of the summer travel season.

Overall, 39.2 million travelers will be taking to the roads and skies, according to AAA estimates. That’s an 8.3% increase from the 36.2 million travelers who set out to see friends and family in the first Memorial Day Weekend after COVID-19 vaccines became widely available.

“Memorial Day is always a good predictor of what’s to come for summer travel. Based on our projections, summer travel isn’t just heating up, it will be on fire,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel.

This year’s projected Memorial Day travelers, mostly by car, are still off from pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, 42.8 million drove at least 50 miles or booked flights, AAA said. That’s a decrease of more than 8%.

AAA is estimating 3 million people will fly over the weekend, up from the 2.4 million who flew in the weekend last year, but down from the 3.2 million flying passengers in 2019.

Flyers will be paying more this year, with airfares up 28% compared to 2019, according to a Memorial Day air travel outlook from Hopper, a site to shop for flights and hotels. Round trip domestic airfare will cost $394 on average and international round trips will cost an average $917, according to Hopper.

The 2022 Memorial Day Weekend projections underscore consumers’ willingness to travel — and spend — despite all the head winds.

The same day AAA announced its travel projections, retail gas prices broke records yet again. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is nearing the three-month mark and continues to reverberate through oil markets. Still, some traffic data suggests that in aggregate, most drivers are not changing their driving behaviors for now.

The national average Tuesday for a gallon of gas was $4.59, up seven cents from this time last week, AAA said. When Americans were firming up their Memorial Day plans one year ago, the national average was $3.04, according to AAA data.

Recent government data on April retail sales showed consumers are still spending at a brisk clip. Sales increased 0.9% in April, just near the 1% predictions from economists. Adjusting for inflation, sales increased around 0.6% in April. Data revisions also showed strong spending in March, at 1.4% versus the initially-reported 0.7%.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DOW:DJIA) , S&P 500 (S&P:SPX) and Nasdaq Composite (NASDAQ:COMP) rallied on Monday after posting eight straight weeks of losses.

Link to MarketWatch's Slice.