Consumer confidence spurs Californians’ yen for holiday travel

Consumer confidence spurs Californians’ yen for holiday travel

Joan Frentz of Santa Rosa joined the multitudes of Memorial Day weekend travelers Wednesday morning and immediately hit a familiar snag.

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A day before the start of a four-day holiday travel period in which nearly 500,000 Californians — about equal to the population of Sonoma County — are expected to fly, Frentz found herself grounded.

Her 12:40 p.m. flight to Phoenix, Ariz. from the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport was posted for a two-hour delay, finally taking off at 2:29 p.m.

“I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come from American Airlines,” Frentz said, referring to the carrier that started service at the local airport in February.

But she was in no rush, bound for a family member’s bar mitzvah on Saturday in Phoenix.

Highways and airports should be busy throughout the state, as the AAA forecast more than 4.8 million Californians will travel 50 miles or more from home through Monday. That’s up 3.4 percent from last year and the most since 5 million folks took a Memorial Day trip in 2005, during the boom years prior to the recession.

The vast majority — about 4 million — will hit the road this year, while the rest will either fly, ride the train, take a bus or board a cruise ship.

Getting away won’t be cheap, the AAA said, noting that gasoline prices, airfare, hotel room and car rental rates have all increased.

“The positive growth we’ve seen throughout the travel industry this year is moving into summer,” John Moreno, spokesman for AAA Northern California said in a statement, attributing the travel uptick to “strong consumer confidence.”

Memorial Day travel in the Golden State has grown steadily since 2011, he said.

Across the state, a gallon of regular gasoline cost $3.08 Wednesday, 28 cents more than a year ago, the AAA reported.

Memorial Day gas prices in California were $3.68 a gallon in 2015, $4.12 in 2014 and $3.97 in 2013, according to the GasBuddy website.

Gas prices have not registered their “normally explosive” spring spike leading up to Memorial Day, said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.

“That’s likely a major component behind the psyche of travelers this summer,” he said.

GasBuddy’s summer travel survey found 82 percent of participants plan to take a road trip this summer, a 7 percent increase over last year and 9 percent more than in 2015. About 70 percent planned at least two trips.

Some of them will be headed for park campgrounds along the Sonoma Coast, which were mostly booked for the holiday weekend, said Liz Beale, a state parks staffer.

Bodega Dunes and Wrights Beach campgrounds, which are booked online, are always full on holiday weekends. Other campgrounds that have some first-come, first served campsites, will likely be filled by Friday night, Beale said.

Nationally, the AAA said 39.3 million people will take Memorial Day weekend trips, 1 million more than last year and amounting to the largest travel wave since 2005.

AAA defines the holiday travel period as Thursday through Monday.

About 34.6 million Americans will hit the road, the AAA said, and with a national average pump price of $2.39 on Monday they will be paying the second-lowest price in a decade in which the average price was $3.15 a gallon, GasBuddy said.

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