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Fewer predicted to travel during Thanksgiving holiday

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AAA projects 43.4 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

That’s a decrease of 1.5 percent from the 44 million people who traveled last year. This decrease falls just shy of last Thanksgiving’s four-year peak since the recession-driven declines in 2008-09, when Thanksgiving travel fell by 25 percent.

The Thanksgiving holiday travel period is defined as Wednesday, Nov. 27, to Monday, Dec. 2.

In Tennessee, AAA predicts 967,372 travelers will take to the roads and skies for Thanksgiving traveling. That’s 2.3 percent less than in 2012.

Across the U.S., median spending is expected to drop nearly 7 percent to $465, compared to $498 last year.

The Thanksgiving holiday is a less expensive holiday for travelers compared to other holidays.

This year Labor Day spending was expected to be $804, Independence Day $749 and Memorial Day $659.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving will be the busiest single day of travel, with 37 percent of travelers departing for trips Nov. 27.

The majority plan to return home on Dec. 1 (33 percent) with another 24 percent expecting to return on Dec. 2 or later.

“AAA projects a slight decrease in the number of Thanksgiving travelers this year as a result of weakened consumer sentiment tied to economic uncertainty and the government shutdown,” said Jessica Brady, AAA spokeswoman.

“On a positive note, travel volumes are expected to remain well-above the 2008 and 2009 levels, when the recession caused a 25-percent drop in travel numbers.”

Brady added, “However, last year there was a larger increase in overall travel than initially forecast for the Thanksgiving holiday. We could see more travelers this year than expected as a result of falling gas prices and last-minute travel plans.”

AAA estimates that most drivers will pay the cheapest gas prices for the Thanksgiving holiday since 2010.

The national average is below last year’s holiday weekend average of $3.42 per gallon. Pump prices are not estimated to impact holiday travel plans. Drivers can find stations selling gas for less than $3 per gallon in the vast majority of states.

An estimated 90 percent of travelers — or 38.9 million people — plan to travel by automobile this Thanksgiving. This is a 1.6 percent decrease from the 39.5 million people who traveled by auto last year.

Air travel is expected to decrease 3.7 percent as 3.14 million holiday travelers will take to the skies.

Those traveling by air will find airfares comparable to last year according to AAA’s Leisure travel Index.

For the Thanksgiving holiday the average lowest round-trip rate is $187 for the top 40 U.S. air routes, compared to $188 last year. About 1.4 million travelers will choose other modes of transportation, including rail, bus and cruise ship.

According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, Thanksgiving holiday hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to average $142 per night, compared to $143 last year. Travelers planning to stay at AAA Two Diamond hotels can expect to pay an average cost of $105 per night, compared to $104 in 2012.

Weekend daily car rental rates will average $50, compared to $47 last year.

According to the survey of intended travelers, the average distance traveled by Americans during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is expected to be 601 miles, an increase of 2.2 percent from last year when travelers planned to log 588 miles.

AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight. The Colorado-based business information provider teamed with AAA in 2009 to jointly analyze travel trends during the major holidays. AAA has been reporting on holiday travel trends for more than two decades.