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AAA predicts busiest holiday travel season ever with 614,000 Idahoans hitting the road

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The following is a news release from AAA Idaho.

IDAHO FALLS — Families across the country will need to stock up on hot chocolate and candy canes – this holiday travel season is expected to be the busiest on record, with 116 million Americans dashing through the snow to visit family and friends this year.

About 614,000 Idahoans will be among them, according to new projections by AAA. 4.3 million more Americans will travel this year than last year, for the 8th straight year of holiday travel growth.

“Idaho gas prices started dropping in mid-November, which is a nice present for drivers who are planning a long holiday road trip,” says AAA Idaho public affairs director Matthew Conde. “But the savings may be short-lived. Last Friday, OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) voted to further cut crude oil production to remove more supply from the market. If successful, the strategy could apply upward pressure on oil and gas prices in the coming year.”

In January 2018, OPEC agreed to cut crude oil production by 1.2 million barrels per day, and U.S. production expanded as a result. The United States is now the world’s largest oil producer, hitting 12.3 million barrels per day in 2019, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The latest round of cuts – 500,000 b/d from OPEC members and an additional 400,000 b/d in voluntary cuts from Saudi Arabia – reduces overall production by 2.1 million barrels per day. Any resulting rise in crude oil prices would be impactful, because the price of crude determines 50 to 60 percent of the price of gasoline. Currently, crude oil is trading near $59 per barrel.

Today, the U.S. average price for regular is $2.57, which is four cents less than a month ago and 16 cents more than a year ago. In the Gem State, the current price is $2.87, which is 13 cents less than a month ago and five cents more than a year ago.

The family sleigh remains the most popular way

More than 105 million motorists are expected to hit the road this holiday season. But the quest for Christmas cheer can lead to frayed nerves and even road rage.

“In AAA’s previous research on aggressive driving, eight million U.S. drivers admitted to engaging in extreme acts of road rage, including deliberately ramming another vehicle or getting out of their car to confront another driver,” Conde said. “Our advice is to keep a level head. Don’t do anything offensive, be tolerant and forgiving, and don’t escalate a bad situation with an angry driver.”

Airfare drops while rental car rates accelerate

Average airfares to the most popular destinations dipped three percent this year to $172 per ticket. Meanwhile, rental car rates are the highest they’ve been in a decade at $84 per day.

“Usually, most travelers depart two or three days before the holiday. But this year, the chaos on the road and at the airport might start a little sooner, because people who have the 23rd and 24th off can leave for their destinations as early as the Friday afternoon before Christmas,” Conde explained. “Travelers will also spread out their return home – some will come back on the weekend after Christmas, while others may wait until closer to New Year’s Day.”

Sunday, December 22 and Monday, December 23 will be the busiest days at the airport. But no matter which day you fly, arrive early to deal with longer security lines, then take advantage of the extra time to enjoy a good meal, a free art exhibit or musical performance, or even a spa treatment.

Idahoans who have connecting flights through regional airports like Salt Lake City, Seattle, Portland, or San Francisco should expect very congested terminals and longer wait times.

Hotel room prices stay about the same

Travelers will pay slightly more to stay at a AAA Three Diamond-rated property this year, while people who are staying at a Two Diamond property will pay slightly less.

Safely transporting a Christmas tree

According to AAA’s latest research, an estimated 84 million Americans plan to buy a live Christmas tree this year. Nearly one in five say that they previously had a tree fall off or out of their vehicle while transporting it home.

About half (44 percent) of the survey respondents plan to transport the tree by tying it to the roof of their vehicle without using a roof rack, or by placing the tree unsecured in the back of a pickup truck. Both methods have proven to be unsafe.

AAA encourages drivers to use strong rope or ratchet straps rather than the twine provided by a tree lot. Cover the roof with a blanket to help prevent damage. Have the tree netted, then loop rope or straps between the branches. Secure the tree at the top, center and bottom, with the trunk facing the front of the car. Once it’s tied down, tug from various angles to make sure it’s properly secured. If possible, use a vehicle with a roof rack to transport the tree, and take back roads.

Roadside safety

AAA expects to rescue nearly 827,000 motorists nationwide, and more than 1,600 Idahoans. Dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires will be the main sources of holiday frustration. Drivers should request a pre-trip inspection from a trusted mechanic before they set out on their adventure.

“Loss of traction is another issue this time of year – it can lead to a bad game of holiday pinball on the roads,” Conde said. “Please double or triple your normal following distance in bad weather.”

AAA also recommends that drivers pack extra food, water, layered clothing, and a basic emergency kit that includes a flashlight with extra batteries, a fully charged cell phone with additional mobile power, a first aid kit, flares or emergency reflectors, jumper cables, and something to restore traction, such as sand or kitty litter. Clothing options should not restrict the driver’s movement.

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