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AAA expects 36.1 million to travel Memorial Day weekend, as Americans shake off cabin fever

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NEW YORK, N.Y. - A strong case of cabin fever and a little more money to spend should inspire a greater number of Americans to hit the road this Memorial Day weekend.

That's the forecast from auto club AAA, which on Friday said it expects a total of 36.1 million people to travel 50 miles or more. If that estimate holds true, it would be the largest amount of people travelling during the holiday weekend since 2005.

Most will drive to their vacation spots, but more people are expected to fly or take a cruise or train this year compared with a year ago, AAA said.

The improving job market and a rise in disposable income are fueling the increase in holiday travel plans, AAA found in its annual survey. The desire to get out of the house after a brutally cold winter is another strong incentive to hit the road.

"Thoughts of historic cold are still fresh in the minds of Americans in many parts of the country," said AAA's Chief Operating Officer Marshall Doney, in a statement. "The winter blues appear to have given Americans the travel bug."

Of the total travellers, 31.8 million are expected to drive, up 1.3 per cent from 31.4 million last year. Gas prices are less of a concern for drivers, since they are expected to be lower than last year's average of $3.63, thanks to rising supplies, AAA said.

Airports will be busier, with 2.6 million people expected to fly this year, up 2.4 per cent from last year. And 1.7 million people will take a cruise, train or bus, a 6.5 per cent jump from a year ago.

Travellers can expect to pay more for their getaways. Hotel rooms are likely to cost $3 more a night from last year, at an average of $169 per night, AAA said. The average cost of a round-trip plane ticket is $227, up from $215 a year ago. Car rentals will average $44 a day during the weekend, up 1 per cent from a year ago. A 3.4 per cent increase in personal income from last year should help cover those additional costs, the auto club said.

The AAA forecast represents an 18 per cent increase in travellers from 2009, the low point of the recession, when only 30.5 million Americans travelled for Memorial Day. The number has been increasing steadily since 2011. The busiest travel weekend was in 2005, when 44 million people went away.

Last year, AAA said more people travelled during the Memorial Day weekend than it projected. It had expected total travel to fall nearly 1 per cent from the year before to 34.8 million. But 35.5 million Americans actually travelled last year, according to a survey conducted following the holiday weekend.

For its forecast, AAA works with research company IHS Global, which uses economic data to come up with its projections. A separate company, D.K. Shifflet & Associates surveys more than 50,000 households after the trips have been taken.

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Follow Joseph Pisani on Twitter at https://twitter.com/josephpisani

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