Labor Day travel to hit four-year high

Travel club AAA is projecting that 34.1 million Americans will travel over this Labor Day weekend, the most since the midst of the recession.

The number of Americans using the holiday for a getaway at least 50 miles from home represents a 4.2% increase over the 32.7 million who traveled during the Labor Day weekend in 2012. And it’s the highest number of travelers since 2009, when 31.3 million Americans took a holiday break in the midst of the economic downturn.

AAA says this year’s projected spike reflects growing economic confidence, particularly when it comes to real estate.

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“For many Americans, their home is also their biggest asset,” AAA president and CEO Robert Darbelnet said in a statement. “As home prices improve in many parts of the country, more families are feeling comfortable about traveling this Labor Day holiday.”

Most Americans will take to the road, with 85% expected to drive to their destinations, 4.3% more than the 28 million who got away by car last year.

That may be due in part to slightly less sticker shock at the pump. Last year, a gallon of gas on Labor Day cost on average $3.83, the highest average price on record for the holiday. Gas currently is 18 cents cheaper on average, at $3.54 a gallon.

While AAA says that it expected gas to be cheaper through the middle of this month, an event like an end-of-summer storm could cause a spike. And the travel club says that 50% of American adults believe that they’re still paying too much if a gallon costs $3.44.

A growing number of those traveling over the holiday weekend will choose to fly, with 2.61 million expected to head to the airport, a nearly 3% bump compared to 2012.

But however Americans choose to get away, they may pay more to get there and once they arrive.

The cost of renting a car over the holiday weekend will average $51 a day, a 32% bump over last year, according to AAA’s numbers. Tickets to fly are up 4% compared to 2012, with the lowest round-trip ticket for the 40 most popular domestic routes costing $214 on average.

And vacationers getting a room at “three diamond” rated, upper mid-tier hotels will likely pay 4% more than they would have last year. However, hotels with a “two diamond” rating from AAA will on average be cheaper than they were in 2012, costing on average $115 a night, a 2% dip.