Economy Watch: Memorial Day Weekend Travel Edges Down

Ahead of the holiday weekend, AAA estimated that 34.8 million Americans would travel more than 50 miles from home during the period from May 23 to May 27.

Ahead of the holiday weekend, AAA estimated that 34.8 million Americans would travel more than 50 miles from home during the period from May 23 to May 27. That’s a 0.9 percent decrease from the 35.1 million people who traveled during Memorial Day weekend (by the AAA definition) in 2012, a decline that the organization chalks up to an 8 percent drop in air travel compared with last year, as well as the fact that the improving economy hasn’t improved enough to spur more of the kind of discretionary spending that travel represents.

The number of U.S. travelers by car will be up a little from last year, however: from 32.1 million to 32.2 million. Still, that’s a lackluster forecast for businesses that depend on travelers, either directly or indirectly, especially during the summer.

“AAA is forecasting Memorial Day travel to be slightly lower this year due to an to an up-and-down economy, the impact of the end of the payroll tax holiday on working families, and a 30-year low in the percentage of working age people in the workforce,” AAA CEO Robert L. Darbelnet noted in a statement. “American travelers are experiencing fee fatigue and frustration with everything from higher fares to airport security.”

The price of gas vexed those who chose to drive over the weekend and, if current trends continue, those who drive in the summer travel season. According to AAA, the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded, which has been down lately, ticked up again: from $3.502 a month ago to $3.631 on Monday. That’s roughly where the average was a year ago—at $3.645 a gallon.

But higher gas prices weren’t enough to put a dint in the majority of auto travelers’ plans over the Memorial Day weekend. An AAA survey of intended travelers found that gasoline prices would have “no impact” on plans for 62 percent of travelers. Of the remaining 38 percent of travelers who said gas prices would impact their travel plans, 27 percent plan to economize in other areas. Eight percent are planning to take a shorter trip, and 3 percent will travel by an alternate mode of transportation.

Durable goods orders see uptick

New orders for manufactured durable goods in April saw a monthly increase of $7.2 billion, or 3.3 percent, the Census Bureau said on Friday, which was more than economists expected. The increase followed a 5.9 percent March decrease. Transportation equipment led the way in durable goods orders, increasing by $5.1 billion, or 8.1 percent, to $67.6 billion.

Take transportation out of the equation—mostly airplanes—and new orders increased by 1.3 percent. Exclude defense, and new orders increased 2.1 percent.

Wall Street had a lackluster day ahead of the holiday weekend, with the indices down on Friday during most of the session but eventually clawing back to a near even break. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained a minuscule 8.6 points, or 0.06 percent. The S&P 500 was down 0.06 percent, while the Nasdaq barely moved at all, losing 0.01 percent.