Gas prices are shown Monday, March 7, 2022, in Tumwater, Wash. Governors and state lawmakers across the U.S. are scrambling to provide relief from soaring prices at the gas pump. They are discussing ways to lower or suspended gas taxes, but taking that step has not proved easy, since much of that money goes toward repair of roads and bridges. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Despite high gas prices, Pennsylvanians are traveling this Memorial Day
"What we’re seeing this year is more and more Americans are comfortable with the idea of traveling."
The prices of flights and gasoline are up, but that hasn’t stopped people from planning Memorial Day weekend travel. More than a million Pennsylvanians will travel more than 50 miles from their homes this weekend, according to Jim Garrity, the director of public affairs for AAA East Central.
Memorial Day is often a popular time for road trips to local parks and beaches. Garrity said some people are seemingly taking advantage of the long weekend to go on more lengthy trips.
“What we’re seeing this year is more and more Americans are comfortable with the idea of traveling. And more and more destinations are available to them,” he said, noting that although the number of people planning to travel this summer has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, they are rising.
AAA estimates 39.2 million people will travel 50 miles or more from their homes Memorial Day weekend, an increase of 8.3% from 2021. Air travel is also up 25% over last year.
As of Wednesday, the national average gas price was $4.59 a gallon as of DAY, according to AAA. In Pennsylvania, the average price was $4.77 a gallon, and in Allegheny County, it was slightly lower at $4.69 a gallon.
“Gas prices are upwards of $1.60 more expensive than they were this time last year. More people are still traveling than they were last Memorial Day. And looking to the months ahead, it’s a good indication that it could be a very big summer for travel,” Garrity said. “It’s pent-up demand — people who want to go somewhere, anywhere. They’re just ready to go.”
But people are taking those higher transportation costs into account when planning their trips.
When gas prices hit $4 per gallon, “a lot more consumers start saying to themselves ‘I’ve got to make changes in my daily behaviors,” Garrity said. “Driving less throughout the week, consolidating the amount of trips I take to maybe one trip a week . . . They make these changes to their daily driving behaviors because they want to prioritize things like road trips or vacations.”
Tourism to the Pittsburgh region also seems to have begun a slow rebound. The number of Allegheny County hotel rooms booked for 2022 is up from 2021 and 2020, said Shannon Wolfgang the director of marketing communications for Visit Pittsburgh. Hotel bookings for the month of May are up 41% compared to the same time last year and up 500% compared to May 2020.
Wolfgang said these trends bode well for the rest of the summer: June hotel bookings are also up 67% compared to June 2021 and 270% compared to June 2020.
Increases in hotel bookings coupled with reports that millions of people plan to travel this weekend could indicate that people are traveling despite the high prices.
“That demand [to travel] is outweighing gas prices or airline prices to some degree,” Wolfgang said.
Anyone traveling while gas prices are high should be prepared to “plan, plan, plan,” Garrity said.
“It really does come down to making sure you know what you’re walking into. Because what you don’t want to do is find yourself in the position where you’re saying to yourself ‘I don’t know about that next tank of gas, maybe I can get a little closer to E,’” he said. “It could potentially cost you much, much more to replace the components that you’re going to damage when you run out of gasoline.”