The nearly 9 million Texans traveling for the holidays will encounter the highest gasoline prices for the season since 2013, but the AAA Texas auto club still predicts a record turnout among mobile revelers.
Those taking planes, trains and automobiles to their destinations between Saturday and Jan. 1 will produce “the highest year-end travel volume on record for the state,” according to a news release from AAA earlier this week.
“The economy is performing well, and the labor market is creating higher wages. People want to travel and spend,” spokesman Daniel Armbruster said by phone. He said AAA projections involve those who will travel at least 50 miles.
The average price for a gallon of regular unleaded in Greater Waco stood at $2.14 on Thursday, about 10 cents more than the norm in December of last year but still lower than it was earlier in 2017, when prices surged in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Armbruster said.
Meanwhile, GasBuddy.com reported that the average in Waco for a gallon of regular unleaded was about $2.08.
“Prices are falling closer to what they were in 2016, which is a good way to end the year,” Arbruster said.
The statewide average of $2.17 represents a 4-cent dip the past week, he said. San Antonio has the lowest average in the state, at $2.07, while GasBuddy.com is reporting prices in the $1.80 to $1.90 range in the suburbs of Houston.
GasBuddy.com released a chart Thursday showing that Texas had the cheapest gasoline in the nation going into the holidays. Its average of $2.146 per gallon of regular unleaded bested second-place Mississippi, as well as third-place neighbor Oklahoma at $2.154 per gallon.
Locally, several outlets around Waco have prices for regular unleaded hovering at about $2 a gallon. The Sam’s Club store on Bellmead Drive was advertising a rate of $1.98 a gallon.
“Across the board this year, travel has increased year-over-year for every major holiday weekend — Memorial Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving — and we project the same for this holiday period. We’ve seen the strong economy and growing consumer confidence fuel holiday travel all year long,” said Bill Sutherland, AAA senior vice president for travel and publishing, in the press release.
Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy.com, released a report placing the blame for high fuel prices on a “Gassy Grinch,” but in a phone interview said his projected Christmas Day national average of $2.39 looks like a gift compared to the $3.03, $3.23, $3.25 and $3.26 motorists were shelling out in December of 2010 through 2013.
“Oil prices have been moving upward, as has the wholesale price of gasoline, so prices at the pump may be swinging upward before long,” DeHaan said. “The good news is that average gas prices have fallen in every state in the last month, as demand for gasoline cools off with winter returning in full force. The drops are led by states in the Great Lakes region, which has seen gasoline prices drop more than 15 cents.”
Offering advice on saving money, DeHaan said drivers should watch for state lines.
“Because of differing state taxes, in some extreme cases, drivers can spend an extra $25 when refueling the tank if on the wrong side of the line, according to a study prepared by GasBuddy,” he said.
Travelers flying to their destinations will see airfares almost 20 percent cheaper than last year, according to AAA, which reported that an average of $165 will cover the cost of a round-trip flight on the most popular 40 domestic routes, which is a five-year low.
“Competition, capacity over-expansion and generally lower oil prices are contributing to the decline,” though oil prices have surged recently, according to information provided by AAA Texas.
As they were at Thanksgiving, car rental rates are more expensive this year than last. At $74, the daily rate has increased 11 percent from end-of-year 2016, and is a five-year record high, the auto club reported.
Nationally, 107 million people will travel over the holidays, 97.4 million of those taking cars, 6.4 million hopping planes, and 3.6 million taking trains or buses, according to the AAA travel survey.
Jodi Wheatley, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Transportation, said TxDOT will curtail construction-related lane closures between now and Jan. 1, though that does not eliminate the presence of workers.
“We do recommend planning ahead, making arrangements for a sober ride home,” Wheatley said. “Holidays are no fun from inside a jail cell.”