Gas cheaper than last Memorial Day, but travel expected to drop

Memorial Day weekend travel is expected to be slightly lower this year from 2012, according to a forecast this week from AAA.

The auto club’s Mountain West region — which includes Nevada and neighboring states such as Arizona, Idaho and Utah — should see about 2.6 million trips of 50 miles or more. Nationally, the number of treks is 34.8 million. Both come in less than 1 percent fewer than last year’s estimates.

While most of those trips — about 2.3 million in the Mountain West — will be by car, the cost of gasoline doesn’t appear to be the deciding factor for the mode of transportation, AAA Nevada spokeswoman Cynthia Harris said.

“People are going to travel regardless,” she said. “They are very used to the volatility of gas prices. It’s just part of our way of life now.”

Still, survey results show that travelers may cut back in other areas: staying in cheaper hotels or with family or friends.

In Las Vegas, the average price of a gallon of gas was $3.46 toward the end of this week, according to GasBuddy, which collects and shares consumer-reported data. A year ago, the price was $3.87.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s summer forecast predicts the average price of gasoline to fall with the dropping cost of crude oil. The government agency expects the national average of a gallon of gas to be $3.53 from April to September.

That, of course, depends on many factors, said Gas Predictor analyst Chuck Bonner. Earlier this month, for instance, shortages at Midwestern refineries sent prices soaring above $4 a gallon throughout that region.

“And the futures markets are very unsettled,” Bonner added.

The slight downward trend in the overall number of travelers is because fewer people plan to fly, according to AAA.

But industry trade group Airlines of America offers a different perspective when looking at the full summer travel season. Its annual forecast says 209 million passengers will take to the skies from June to August — 1 percent more than the same time last year. International travelers are estimated at 27 million, which the trade group said will be a record.

About 43 percent of the 328,000 tourists expected to descend on Las Vegas this weekend will fly, according to predictions from the Convention and Visitors Authority.

Spokeswoman Courtney Fitzgerald said a record 39.7 million people visited in 2012, which indicates an improving economy.

“They aren’t spending quite as much as they had previously,” Fitzgerald said, “but things are going in the right direction.”

Contact reporter Adam Kealoha Causey at acausey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0361.

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