AAA sees holiday travel decline

Expect fewer travelers this season as a tough economy forces more people to stay home.

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By Aaron Smith, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Fewer Americans will travel for the holidays - especially by air - as the current economic crisis continues to take its toll on spending, motorist group AAA said Wednesday.

Nearly 63.9 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles during the 2008 Christmas-New Year travel period, a decline of 1.4 million travelers, or 2.1%, from the prior year, according its projections.

AAA said this "slight decline" is the first slowdown in December holiday travel since 2002.

"Without question, the economic downturn of 2008 eroded the discretionary income many Americans would have spent on travel and, for some, altered their travel plans throughout the year," AAA chief executive Robert Darbelnet said in a statement.

Air travel is expected to experience the most dramatic decrease. About 8.1 million people will fly for the holiday, an 8.5% decline from the 8.9 million travelers in the 2007 season, AAA projected.

Most travelers - 82% - will drive, said AAA, dropping 1.2% from last year to 52.4 million travelers, the motorist group said.

Other modes of transportation, including trains and buses, will experience a lighter decline of 0.7%, to 3.33 million, AAA said.

Travel costs

In some cases, travel around the New Year will be more expensive than during Christmas, according to AAA.

The group found a 9% decrease in air fares for the Christmas season but a 3% rise for the week of the New Year, compared with 2007.

Car rental prices increased by 2% during the Christmas season and by 8% for the week of the New Year, compared with 2007.

For hotel rates, the larger year-to-year decline occurs during New Year's, said AAA. The motorist group found a 3% drop among mid-range hotels during the week of Christmas, and a 16% decline for New Year's. To top of page

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