More than 3.5 million Southland residents are traveling during this Thanksgiving holiday, a 3.8 percent increase over last year that the Automobile Club of Southern California attributes to lower gas prices and improved personal finances.
Around the state, the number of people projected to take Thanksgiving holiday trips is 5.65 million, according to the Auto Club.
The number of people traveling at least 50 miles from home between today and this coming Sunday is expected to be the highest a Thanksgiving holiday since 2007, when 4 million Southern Californians took trips, the Auto Club said in a statement.
For both Southern California and the state, 85 percent of travelers are expected to drive while 11 percent fly.
About 3.01 million Southern Californians will travel by car — a 3.9 percent increase over 2013 — while more than 379,000 are projected to fly, a 2.7 percent increase over last year, according to the Auto Club. Statewide, 4.85 million will drive to holiday destinations, and 610,000 will go by plane.
“As Californians see improvements in jobs and household worth this year, they are more willing to spend on travel,” said Auto Club spokesman Jeffrey Spring.
“An added bonus for travel budgets has been dramatically lower gas prices in the past two months. Consumers have more money in their pocket to plan trips, and this Thanksgiving’s travel will cost them less by car and just 1 percent higher than last year on average by air.”
Gas prices in Los Angeles and much of the Southland are heading toward an average price of $3 a gallon and are about 40 cents lower on average than at this time last year.
The top five destinations for Southern California travelers, according to a survey of the Auto Club’s AAA Travel agents, are, in this order, Las Vegas, San Francisco, San Diego, Grand Canyon, Santa Barbara and the California Central Coast.
Nationally, 46.3 million people are expected to travel over this holiday weekend, an increase of 4.2 percent from last year. Eighty-nine percent, or 41.2 million, will drive to their destinations, and 3.5 million are expected to fly, the Auto Club said.
The Auto Club quoted IHS Global Insight, which conducts holiday travel research and calculates holiday travel projections for the AAA, as reporting that West Coast travelers plan to spend about $700 on Thanksgiving trips this year, and the average trip distance for them will be 434 miles. Last year, West Coast residents spent an average of $681 and traveled an average of 795 miles.
Among this year’s projected Thanksgiving travelers, 46 percent have household incomes below $50,000, 33 percent between $50,000 and $100,000, and 22 percent have incomes of over $100,000, the Auto Club said. In 2013, 36 percent of travelers had household incomes below $50,000, 33 percent between $50,000 and $100,000, and 31 percent had incomes above $100,000.
Today is expected to be the most popular day for outbound travel, while Sunday is expected to be the day when most travelers return home, according to the Auto Club.
Unlike the Auto Club, which regards the Thanksgiving holiday travel period as between today and Sunday, the managers of Los Angeles International Airport consider it to be an 11-day period that began last Friday. They forecast LAX to be the nation’s busiest airport during that stretch.
More than 1.97 million passengers are forecast to pass through the airport between Nov. 21 and Dec. 1, said Nancy Suey Castles, public relations director of Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that runs LAX. That’s a 4.8 percent increase over last year’s 1.82 million, which also made LAX the nation’s busiest airport, she said.
Travel experts attribute the increase at LAX to more available seats as airlines add flights to new cities, use larger aircraft on some flights. The addition of several new international air carriers is also seen as a factor.
Passengers should expect to see busy terminals and many domestic flights 90 percent full, Castles said. Flights between LAX and cities that are traditionally popular with Southern Californians — such as San Francisco, Las Vegas, Chicago, New York City and Boston – may be fully booked, she said.
Sunday and Monday are forecast to be the busiest travel days, with both days exceeding 207,000 passengers, Castles said.