Two threats that once loomed large over the summer travel season — massive flight delays because of air traffic controller furloughs and skyrocketing gas prices — have vaporized, leaving predictions of relatively smooth sailing, flying and driving ahead.
As the economy continues to recover and consumers are more comfortable spending rather than saving, experts believe that spells good news for the travel season that kicks off with Memorial Day weekend.
The holiday weekend itself is not expected to set any records: The AAA is forecasting numbers similar to last year, with 34.8 million Americans expected to travel between Thursday and Monday.
But for the summer season, surveys show more people are expected to take a vacation on the road and in the air this year than last, and gas prices are projected to be about 16 cents a gallon less than a year ago. Even airfare to many top summer destinations has dropped compared to 2012, though airlines continue to tack on extra fees and hotels are charging more for rooms.
“All in all, taking into consideration airfare is down and hotels are up, it’s a bit of a wash for travelers,” said Jeanenne Tornatore, senior editor of Orbitz.com.
She warned that some travelers might be taken aback by extra fees that airlines are charging for everything from carry-on bags to seats with more legroom.
“That’s one of the big things that ends up costing people more,” she said.
Still, surveys show travelers are willing to part with more cash this year. A survey from travel site TripAdvisor said 25 percent of summer travelers expect to spend more on vacation this year, while 53 percent will spend the same.
“For so many years, we’ve been saying ‘the economy, the economy,’ ” said Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel.com. “I don’t know if that matters as much anymore. People are making it work.”
The TripAdvisor survey says 30 percent of those polled said they intend to travel over Memorial Day weekend, a 6 percent increase over last year, and 86 percent plan to take a leisure trip over the summer, a jump of 7 percent.
Airlines for America, an industry trade organization, said U.S. airlines are expected to carry nearly 209 million passengers between June and August. That’s up 1 percent; the group believes higher household net worth, increased corporate profits and a break in the price of fuel are factors in the increase. Of the 209 million, the forecast calls for a record 27 million people to travel internationally.
One of those is Elizabeth Perez-Gurri, 24, of Pinecrest.
After deciding with two best friends to visit Europe this summer, the group settled on Greece because its economic woes translated to good deals.
“We were sort of on a budget, so we wanted to pick somewhere that was enjoyable but at the same time enjoyable for our bank accounts,” said the Miami public relations account executive.
In July, Perez-Gurri will fly to Athens and then Santorini, travel within the country on inexpensive ferries and stay in apartments instead of hotels to save money.
“We’ve kind of just been saving for it,” she said. “It’s definitely not something I do annually. This is something like a special occasion: Let’s make the investment and go travel.”