More Southern Californians will travel over this Christmas-New Year’s holiday than for any holiday since 2001, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California.
More than 7.57 million Southland residents, and nearly 12.2 million statewide, are expected to travel 50 miles or more from Dec. 23 through Jan. 4, an increase of 3.2 percent over 2013, the AAA said in a statement.
Eighty-nine percent of travelers, or 6.72 million Southern Californians and 10.82 million statewide, will travel by car to their destinations -– a 3.4 percent increase from last year. More than 597,000 local residents and 961,000 Californians are expected to fly, which is a 0.5 percent increase over 2013.
Nationally, travel is also projected to set a record, with 98.6 million travelers, an increase of 4 percent over last year’s Christmas-New Year holiday, the statement said.
The AAA said it is projecting an increase in holiday travelers because of greater household net worth, increased disposable income and a lower unemployment rate. Lower gas prices are also making getaways more affordable.
“Historically, the year-end holiday period is the most popular holiday time of the year for vacations, and even during the recession years, we saw relatively small declines in the number of travelers because of their priority to visit friends and family,” said Filomena Andre, the Auto Club’s vice president for travel products and services. “This year, in addition to a new record number of travelers, we are also experiencing increased interest in getaways that allow families and friends to spend time together in a vacation destination.”
With the vast majority of travelers going by car, sharply lower gas prices will provide more money for other travel spending. Regular unleaded now costs nearly 80 cents less per gallon than at this time last year. Hotels and car rentals are about 4 percent more expensive this year than last year, while airfares are down an average of 7 percent, according to the AAA.
The most popular destinations for Southern Californians over this Christmas-New Year holiday, according to a poll of Auto Club AAA Travel agents, are, in the following order: Las Vegas, San Francisco, San Diego, the Grand Canyon and Anaheim. The top air destination is Hawaii.
“While year-end holiday travel will be spread out over a number of days, the Auto Club advises travelers that local freeways beginning this weekend will likely be more congested with holiday travelers,” the statement said. “And air travelers should plan to arrive extra early at the airport to ensure they have enough time to get through security.”
At Los Angeles International Airport, the holiday travel season is regarded as taking place from today until Jan. 2. Nearly 2.97 million passengers will pass through LAX during that period, a 4.1 percent increase over last year, LAX airport officials said earlier this week.
The busiest travel days will be this coming Monday and Tuesday, Friday Dec. 26 and Monday Dec. 29, according to an airport statement, which said more than 211,000 passengers are expected on those days.
Airlines for America, the U.S. airline industry association, said LAX will be the second busiest U.S. airport this holiday, behind Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Passengers should expect to see busy terminals and many domestic flights 95 percent full or fully booked, according to LAX.
Travel experts attribute the increase at LAX to the emergence of several new international air carriers and a greater availability of seats as some airlines add flights to new cities, use larger aircraft, or reconfigure existing aircraft with more seats on selected flights.
LAX officials recommend passengers planning to depart during daily peak travel periods — from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. — arrive two hours before domestic flights and three hours before international flights.
The airport’s multi-billion-dollar modernization program is underway, and passengers should allow extra time to get to the terminals serving the airlines they’re flying, according to the airport statement. Visitors can expect to see construction along Central Terminal Area roadways; in Parking Structures 3 and 4; inside Terminals 1, 2, 5, 6, 7/8, and the Tom Bradley International Terminal, it said.
—Staff and wire reports
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