Amid relatively low gas prices and an economy with some good signs, AAA says more people will travel this weekend than in any previous Memorial Day period in the past 12 years.
The auto club’s prediction for the holiday weekend, the traditional start of the summer travel season, is on track with other organizations’ projections of record-high airline travel this summer.
AAA says 39.3 million people across the country are expected to go more than 50 miles from home during the holiday weekend, which the organization defines as running from Thursday through Monday.
That’s an increase of about 2.7 percent over last year, with the vast majority of travelers — 88 percent — driving.
“Unemployment is down, consumer confidence is improved in the last few years,” said Mike Right with AAA’s local affiliate, the Automobile Club of Missouri. “We’re completely out of the recession, people are feeling a little better about the economy.”
Moreover, he said, “the price of gasoline has not been a deterrent.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, the average price for regular on the Missouri side of the St. Louis area was $2.19 per gallon, according to an AAA survey.
That’s slightly higher than $2.11 a year ago but far below the St. Louis area peak of more than $3.99 reached on May 12, 2011.
Across Missouri the average price Wednesday was $2.13, up six cents from a year ago. The Illinois statewide average was $2.44, an increase of three cents from 2016.
The national average Wednesday was $2.37, up from last year’s $2.29 but far below the all-time high of $4.11 reached in July 2008.
Most construction work zones on Missouri highways will be inactive from noon Friday until 9 a.m. Tuesday but some lane closures will remain in place, said the Missouri Department of Transportation.
The auto club says travel is predicted to jump this weekend even though some key costs of trips have gone up.
For example, AAA says its average three-diamond rated hotel has a price tag of $215 a night, or 18 percent more than last year.
The auto club said car rental rates will average $66 a day, or 7 percent above the 2016 figure. But car rental bookings are running 19 percent higher than in last year’s Memorial Day period, AAA said.
AAA said average air fares this weekend are expected to be 9 percent higher than in 2016, with $181 the average round-trip ticket for the top 40 domestic flight routes.
Still, Airlines for America, the trade industry group for major domestic airlines, cited low air fares as one reason for its projected all-time high of 234.1 million passengers traveling worldwide on American carriers for June, July and August.
Also predicting an all-time high for summer travel is airfarewatchdog.com. That website says it surveyed more than 1,300 travelers and that almost 85 percent expect to take at least one trip, a 12 percent increase over 2016.
The website adds that online search demand related to summer travel is up almost 50 percent from a year ago.
Susan Hakenjos, vice president and general manager of Brentwood Travel, said her agency has been around 60 years and is having its best year ever, up about 30 percent from last year.
She said demand has been strong for travel inside and outside the United States.
She said Europe is a favorite international destination for St. Louisans — particularly Italy, Ireland, Scotland, London and Paris — despite ongoing concern over terrorism incidents such as the bombing in Manchester, England, this week. She said one factor is the good exchange rate for Americans with the euro and the English pound.
Moreover, she said, people continue to go to the Caribbean despite worries about the Zika virus.
“You still have all that concern, but people are going anyway,” she said. “They’ve had their fill of staycations.”
Pat Blassie, the owner of Altair Travel and Cruises in Brentwood, and John Heimburger, president of TravelPlex in Creve Coeur and St. Peters, also said travel domestically and internationally from St. Louis is strong right now.
They said the controversy last month over the forcible removal of a doctor from an overbooked United Airlines flight in Chicago hasn’t appeared to deter people from air travel.
“People recognize that air travel and airports are busy and crazy,” Blassie said. She said her agency tells people to allow plenty of time to catch their flights.
St. Louis Lambert International Airport expects a summer that’s busier than in 2016, said spokesman Jeff Lea.
That’s partly because the number of flights will be slightly higher. In June, he said, there will be 520 departures and arrivals a day, up 14 from last year.
Those staying home will be able to choose from numerous events including the St. Louis County Greek Fest at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in Town and Country (Friday through Monday); the Missouri River Irish Fest in St. Charles’ Frontier Park (Friday-Sunday); and the St. Louis Ribfest in January-Wabash Park in Ferguson (Friday-Monday).
There’s also the Schlafly Art Outside Festival outside Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood (Friday-Sunday); the inaugural Mississippi Nights Music Festival at 3 p.m. Saturday on Laclede’s Landing; the Willie Atkins Jazz Festival at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Grandel theater in Grand Center; and the Gypsy Caravan antique and craft market Monday at Family Arena in St. Charles.