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Holiday travel to hit record numbers

Holiday travelers sit, sleep, and relax while waiting to depart from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Terminal 1 on Monday.
Holiday travelers sit, sleep, and relax while waiting to depart from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Terminal 1 on Monday. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Holiday travelers will have plenty of company this season as 98.6 million Americans take to the skyways and highways to celebrate with friends and family. That’s the most since AAA started tracking seasonal trends in 2001, up 4 percent from last year.

They can thank an improved economy and sliding gas prices. The price of regular was $2.57 per gallon in Miami-Dade on Monday, down 85 cents from last year, and $2.59 in Fort Lauderdale, down 84 cents from 2013, according to the www.fuelgaugereport.com. The Florida average was $2.47, with a national average of $2.39.

The 3.6 million fliers expected to pass through South Florida’s airports could face weather delays at their destinations. East Coast travelers will see more rain than snow, with temperatures in Boston and Manhattan as high as 59 degrees, according to a spokesman with AccuWeather Inc. The nation’s mid-section will be far chillier, and cities including St. Louis could be in for a white Christmas.

In South Florida, more than 1.5 million travelers are expected to pass through Hollywood-Fort Lauderdale International Airport, with the busiest days expected Dec. 28 and Jan. 4.

Miami International Airport expects more than 2.1 million passengers during the period that began last weekend and continues through Jan. 6 — about the same number as last year. The busiest days are likely to be Jan. 2, 3 and 4, said an airport spokesman. The big numbers can cause serious backups; Dec. 20, more than 12,000 passengers passed through the immigration hall during a single five-hour period, with delays of 2.5 hours reported.

South Floridians hoping to snag space at Miami Beach hotels will have to look hard to find rooms. And they might have to forget about finding a deal. Occupancy countywide is running around 85 percent, with only about 5 percent of the rooms on Miami Beach still available, says Rolando Aedo, senior vice president of marketing and tourism for the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. Meanwhile, Miami-Dade hotel rates are among the nation’s top three.

As for New Year’s Eve: Forget about it. Only a dozen of the 160 South Beach hotels listed on Hotels.com still had space available as of Monday afternoon. The cheapest: the one remaining double room at the St. James Bed n’ Drinks Hostel for $344.

HOLIDAY TRAVEL TIPS

For flyers

  • Get to the airport early.
  • Leave gifts unwrapped. Ship olive oils, jams, wines and other food gifts separately or in checked luggage.
  • Register your cell number with your airline for text alerts on flight status.
  • Dress for security checks, with shoes that slip off easily and trousers that don’t require a belt.
  • 3-1-1: In carryons, liquids and gels must be smaller than 3.4 ounces and fit in a one-quart clear plastic bag. Larger amounts of medications and baby formula are allowed but must declared at the checkpoint.

For drivers

  • Check batteries and tires before you hit the road to avoid becoming one of the 1.1 million motorists who will turn to AAA for help this holiday season.
  • Keep your cell phone charged.
  • Plan your route in advance. Take a paper map to back-up technology.
  • Carry an emergency kit with flashlight, reflector, blankets, snacks and water.
  • Locate overnight roadside lodging well before dark.
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