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Holiday Travelers Pumped

Lower Gas Prices Push Economic Worries Aside

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 25, 2008; Page B01

Despite all of the doom and gloom over the economy, people in the Washington area are still planning to travel long distances for dry turkey and the warm embrace of family.

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Travel experts say the dramatic fall in gas prices -- down from an average of $4.11 a gallon in July to $1.91 today -- is likely to salvage a holiday travel season that had been predicted to be one of the worst in memory.

The number of Americans traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday will dip only slightly, despite worries over the faltering economy, according to AAA-Mid Atlantic, a situation that was unexpected just a few months ago when gas and airline ticket prices were sky-high.

"But the lowest gas prices in four years -- a price we thought we'd never see again in our lifetimes -- is still not enough to see an increase," said John Townsend, a spokesman for the auto club. "The overall economy trumps everything. It's taken the lifeblood out of everybody."

Still, family is family. Townsend said he wouldn't be surprised if heartstrings and low prices at the pumps persuade some folks to hit the road at the last minute.

AAA expects a 16 percent increase in holiday travel by train or bus, however, perhaps a result of early planning based on expectations of high fuel prices.

Airline tickets are still selling at a premium, and AAA expects a decrease in air travel compared with past years, along with fewer and more crowded flights. But some experts are even doubting that prediction, as some bargains have emerged recently because of a reduction in jet fuel prices.

Although airfares still are generally high, "prices have come down in past weeks on holiday airfares," said Amanda Hoffman, spokeswoman for Expedia.com, a travel Web site. "We expect 32 million Americans are ready to travel during the holiday season, on par with seasons past."

"Consumers this year are more flexible and motivated by price rather than schedule," said Hoffman, who flew home to Houston for an early Thanksgiving last weekend to take advantage of prices that were half of this week's.

For some, though, economic conditions will be felt around the holiday table.

Two years ago, Brenda Philpot hosted a Thanksgiving feast for 30 in her Prince George's County home. Friends and family flew in from South Carolina and drove down from Baltimore. This year, it will be a smaller affair, with immediate family and close friends.

"People don't have any money," she said.

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