A record 3.9 million Texans are expected to travel during the Thanksgiving holiday, buoyed by a strong economy, stable gas prices and the promise of nice weather, according to the AAA Texas auto club.
Nationwide, an estimated 50.9 million Americans will log more than 50 miles on trips by land, sea and air, an increase of 1.6 million people over last year and the highest traffic volume since 2005, the travel club announced.
“Automobile travel is expected to increase by 3 percent over last year’s Thanksgiving week in Texas,” said AAA spokesman Daniel Armbruster, speaking by phone. “Drivers should plan ahead, create alternate routes, and be sure their vehicle is up to date on all maintenance before hitting the road to avoid breakdowns and delays.”
Gas prices should prove attractive, having dropped for weeks after skyrocketing following Hurricane Harvey’s assault on the Texas Gulf Coast, a hotbed of oil refining. They now are leveling off, said Patrick DeHaan, an analyst with GasBuddy.com, which tracks the industry.
On Monday, the statewide average for a gallon of regular unleaded stood at $2.27, making Texas the fifth least expensive nationally. The national average reached $2.54, while the Greater Waco norm was $2.22.
“Actually, gas prices may trickle down the next couple of days because the price of oil is coming off recent highs,” DeHaan said. “We could see drops for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. There is an OPEC meeting over Thanksgiving, so we will have to keep a close eye on that.”
The Oil Producing and Exporting Countries dominate world oil production, and its policies can impact oil and gasoline prices.
Despite the recent arrival of good news at the pumps, the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded in Greater Waco remains 32 cents higher than it was in late November last year, said AAA’s Armbruster.
“Still, there are a few reasons we’re projecting record travel numbers in Central Texas and nationally,” Armbruster added. “The economy is strong, and the labor market is generating a rising income. Consumers are more confident and willing to spend on holiday travel.”
According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, travelers taking to the skies will pay the lowest average in five years for a round-trip flight to the top 40 domestic routes. The $157 norm is 23 percent lower than last year’s average, Armbruster said in an interview and in his report.
Bambi Eskew, who manages Allen Samuels House of Travel, said the week of Thanksgiving is among the busiest travel times of the year.
“But you better book early, whether you are flying, planning a cruise, whatever,” she said. “I’m not seeing a lot of last-minute specials.”
Travelers hoping to begin their journey at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport should know that a report by travel companies Hopper and InsureMyTrip predict D-FW will see more than 850,000 departures during the Thanksgiving rush, making it the fourth-busiest airport in the country behind only Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
Average car rental daily rates will hit a five-year holiday high of $70 a day, “which may be due to an increase in domestic demand and cost of newer vehicles,” according to AAA Texas’ Thanksgiving Travel Forecast.
Jodi Wheatley, media spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Transportation, said TxDOT will discontinue construction work on Texas highways between 7 a.m. Tuesday and midnight Sunday, meaning motorists should encounter few, if any, work-related bottlenecks.
“That does not necessarily mean there will be no workers present, and travelers need to remember that traffic fines double in designated work zones, whether or not crews are present,” Wheatley said.
Jennifer Dunn, a meteorologist with the Fort Worth office of the National Weather Service, said those moving around the state to visit friends and family will encounter “tranquil weather, for the most part,” with no rainfall predicted anywhere except in far South Texas. A cold front should produce temperatures ranging from the low 30s to the upper 60s locally.
The Texas Department of Public Safety reminds motorists that troopers will be patrolling around the clock during the holiday weekend “looking for drunk drivers, speeders, seat-belt violators, and other motorists who are endangering themselves or the public,” it said in a news release.
During the Thanksgiving weekend of 2016, DPS troopers issued nearly 52,000 traffic citations and warnings for a variety of violations, including speeding, having no insurance and improper use of child safety seats.
DPS patrols also resulted in 275 arrests for driving while intoxicated.