More travelers will hit the road, ride the rails and take flight over the holiday season as they go farther and spend more than a year ago, according to the American Automobile Association.
With the economy showing signs of recovery and putting a bit more money in the pockets of residents of the New York region, AAA anticipates increased holiday travel in all forms.
"It's said that consumer spending is what helps get an economy out of the doldrums," said Robert Sinclair Jr. of AAA New York. "I think one of the first things that people do when the economy turns around is take a trip."
Travelers will journey an average of 1,052 miles round-trip over the Christmas and New Year's holidays compared with last year's average trip of 791 miles, according to AAA.
Forecasters said the median total holiday travel spending will be $694 this year, slightly higher than last year's $670. Of that spending, 29 percent goes toward travel while 71 percent goes to food and beverages, accommodations and shopping, according to AAA.
Air travel during the holiday period from Christmas through New Year's is expected to increase 2.8 percent nationwide over last year, according to AAA. The organization's year-end travel study expected to see 2.75 million fliers during the holiday season.
Airline websites advise travelers to allow extra time to check in, go through security screening and board.
United Airlines posted holiday travel tips on its website that include arriving at least 90 minutes before a domestic flight for those checking bags and an hour ahead of the boarding time for those with carry-on luggage.
Air fares increased this holiday season compared with the last few years, according to Fran Tabone, owner of Bay Travel, in East Patchogue.
"During the recession, fares probably were held a little lower," said Tabone, who is also on the executive board of the Travel Agents of Suffolk County, an industry group.
Travelers making last-minute decisions to fly for the holidays shouldn't expect deep fare discounts, she cautioned. "I don't think there's anything like a deal at the holiday time, but maybe you can keep the price down if you are willing to travel on a different day," she said.
More than 90 percent of year-end holiday travel is by automobile, according to AAA. The organization expects more than 85 million people to take driving trips of 50 miles or more - an increase over the 83 million holiday travelers who drove last year.
AAA's survey showed regular averaging $3.295 per gallon Monday on Long Island, down from $3.297 on Wednesday but still higher than the $3.286 set a week ago. Some experts expect the cost to rise for the holidays. Holiday drivers might see a 0.4-cent hike by New Year's Day, said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at Gasbuddy.com. Also, some gas stations on major roads may charge a bit more to take advantage of holiday business, even though their prices remain competitive, the analyst said.
Thanksgiving is the big holiday for travel on Amtrak, but the rail line still anticipates higher-than-normal travel through Christmas and the New Year's holiday. "We may be adding some extra equipment," said Cliff Cole, an Amtrak spokesman.
LONG ISLAND RAIL ROAD
With Christmas falling on a weekend, the railroad's focus will be on people leaving New York City in advance of the holiday, said Joe Calderone, an LIRR spokesman.
"It's a getaway day," Calderone said of Thursday, the day before Christmas Eve.
The LIRR will add service on Thursday and Friday on the Ronkonkoma, Babylon, Port Jefferson, Port Washington and Far Rockaway branches.
On Christmas Day, trains will run on a weekend/holiday schedule.
The Family Fare program will be in effect, allowing up to four children aged 5 to 11 to ride weekend trains for the advance purchase price of 75 cents per child each way. Children under 5 ride free.
BUSES AND FERRIES
At Greyhound, the largest intercity bus provider, managers expect to see an increase in ridership in the days before Christmas and through New Year's.
Bonnie Bastian, spokeswoman for Greyhound, said the bus service experiences a 40 percent spike in ridership in the days just before Christmas and New Year's Day, and an increase of 10 percent over normal during the week between Christmas and New Year's.
At Cross Sound Ferry Services Inc., which provides service between Orient Point and New London, Conn., a similar pattern is expected, said Stan Mickus, director of marketing and public affairs. Extra ferry departures will be added, he said.
With Joseph Mallia and Ellen Yan