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More folks plan to travel this holiday

AAA expects 77.7 million travelers to hit the highways during Christmas and New Year’s — an increase of 4.4 percent from last year — despite higher gas prices.

Alabama’s average for regular unleaded gasoline was $2.48 per gallon as of Thursday, approximately 90 cents per gallon more than a year ago.

AAA Alabama spokesperson Clay Ingram said the increase in travelers shows a burst of consumer confidence.

“More Americans traveling during the winter holidays is another sign consumers are continuing to grow more confident in their personal financial situations,” he said. “The moderate projected rise in the number of air travelers this holiday period is especially welcome since the airline industry was hit especially hard by the recession.”

The current fuel price average is a good indicator of what people can expect to pay throughout the holiday season. Ingram has said that any increase or decrease will likely be minimal.

“With the recent slide in crude oil prices, it appears these price levels with be fairly stable throughout the remainder of 2009,” AAA said.

Nationwide, AAA projects that 87.7 million people will be traveling 50 miles or more away from home, up from the 84.5 million who traveled last year.

Last year’s statistic marked a 4.7-percent decrease in holiday travel from 2007.

Eighty-eight percent of those will travel by automobile, while 5 percent (4.2 million) will travel by air — an increase of 2.9 percent for air travelers.

The number of those traveling by other means — trains, watercraft, buses and multiple modes of transportation — is expected to be 5.8 million, down from 6 million last year, AAA said.

The average American household will spend $1,009 on travel during Christmas and New Year’s. Most of that amount goes toward transportation. Other areas include lodging (11.6 percent), dining (17.6 percent), shopping (17.6 percent) and entertainment and recreation (13.1 percent).