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Summer travel forecast: Better, but no blowout

May. 25, 2013 @ 12:30 AM

NEW YORK -- This summer, high rollers are flying to lavish hot spots for their vacations. The rest of us are driving to less luxurious places like nearby campgrounds.

The good news: At some U.S. campgrounds these days you get live bands, air guitar contests and chocolate pudding slip 'n slides.

Americans' plans for summer travel mirror the current state of the economy. Rising home prices and a soaring stock market are encouraging those at the top of the income ladder to take more extravagant trips. But large segments of the population are staying close to home because wages are stagnant, rents are high and the end of the payroll tax holiday has shrunk their take-home pay.

For a travel industry still stinging from the Great Recession, that likely means another summer of steady, but slow, recovery.

AAA, one of the nation's largest leisure travel agencies, isn't expecting a resounding start to vacation season this Memorial Day. Citing the "up and down economy," AAA expects 31.2 million Americans to hit the road this weekend, virtually the same number as last year. Throw in planes, trains and buses, and the number of travelers will drop about 1 percent, AAA says.

As vacationers set out this summer, here's what they can expect:

Gas prices about the same as last year. The national average price of gasoline was $3.65 a gallon Friday, 1 cent higher than during last year's Memorial Day weekend. Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at GasBuddy.com, expects prices to drift lower after the holiday and fall close to last summer's low of $3.33 per gallon before hurricane season starts to drag them up again.

More expensive hotel rooms. The average hotel will cost $112.21, before taxes and any other add-on such as resort fees. That's up 4.4 percent from last year's $107.52, according to hotel research firm STR.

Packed planes, steady airfare. Airlines for America, the industry's lobby group, expects 208.7 million people to fly, up 1 percent from last year.

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