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Big jump in holiday travelers expected

By Jennifer Bowen - email

WASHINGTON, DC (RNN) - Travel industry experts are forecasting a jump in the number of Americans who will travel this Thanksgiving season, thanks in large part to an improved mood about the economy.

The nationwide travel service AAA said it expects an 11.4 percent increase in automobile travel compared to 2009, with approximately 42.2 million travelers taking a trip at least 50 miles away from home.

A 3.5 percent increase in air travel is also expected.

"While Americans remain cautious with household budgets and discretionary spending amidst high levels of unemployment, many are in a better financial position this Thanksgiving than a year ago," said AAA President/CEO Robert L. Darbelnet. "This improvement, along with a strong desire to spend time with family and friends, is expected to propel a significant increase in Thanksgiving travel."

With all those extra travelers, there are several things you can do to keep your holiday merry instead of miserable.

Pack your patience

If you're planning to fly this holiday season, you might want to employ a little more patience than usual. All those additional travelers - plus newly launched security measures - could mean longer lines at checkpoints.

The Air Transport Association of America, the nation's largest airline trade association, expects 24 million people will travel by air this Thanksgiving season.

"It is reassuring to see travel levels rebounding with the stronger economy," ATA President James C. May said in a statement. "While modest, the recovery is particularly encouraging given the deep hole that this industry was in a year ago."

The group urges travelers to pack light. Airplanes will be 90 percent full on busiest days, meaning overhead bins will be at capacity.

However, packing light won't make getting through the security checkpoints any easier, as more invasive pat-downs will be used for passengers who refuse the now-controversial body scanners.

Pat-downs will also be given to "resolve alarms that occur at a walk-through metal detector, if an anomaly is detected during screening with advanced imaging technology (AIT), or during random screening," according to a blog by the Transportation Safety Administration.

"If one of those situations arises, you will be given a pat-down before you're able to continue on to your flight," the blog states.

Plan ahead

The well known travel website Priceline.com estimates the average price for air fare during the Thanksgiving season is $383 - the second-most expensive airfare in the past eight years.

Cheaper tickets are available if you're smart about when you book.

"You can dramatically reduce your airfare by being choosey with your travel dates," said Priceline Senior Travel Analyst Brian Ek. "Pick dates when fewer people are flying and the fares will be cheaper."

The best dates to fly, according to Priceline, are Nov. 22, Nov. 23 and Nov. 25 (Thanksgiving Day) and Nov. 30.

"The average fare on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, when everyone wants to fly, is $409. If you wait and fly on the following Monday, the fare drops to $341," Ek said. "So you can actually save quite a bit by adjusting your travel days."

Get the app

To make travel a little easier, AAA has launched three apps for iPhone users.

The TripTik app provides updates on gas prices, maps and information on hotels, restaurants and attractions.

AAA's Roadside app allows members requiring emergency road service to send their location and vehicle description, as well as breakdown details, directly to AAA without having to place a call.

The AAA Discounts app uses GPS to pinpoint a driver's location to provide them with locations of nearby businesses that offer discounts to AAA users.

Travel by car remains the dominant form of transportation during the holidays, with 94 percent of travelers, or 39.7 million people, reaching their destinations by driving there themselves, according to a AAA news release.

That is an increase of 12 percent compared to last year.

At 816 miles, the average distance traveled this year remains largely unchanged from last year.

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