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AAA: 115.6M travelers will break holiday records

If you’re planning to hit the roads, ride the rails or fly the friendly skies this Christmas, expect to bring your patience along with your luggage.

More Americans than ever on record – 115.6 million – will travel this holiday season, from Saturday, December 21 through Wednesday, January 1, according to AAA.

That is the most in nearly 20 years since AAA began tracking in 2000, and represents an increase of 3.9% over last year, or 4.3 million more people packing up their sleighs for a holiday getaway.

More than 104 million of those holiday travelers will drive to their destinations and, INRIX, a global transportation analytics company, expects delays to be the worst on Thursday, Dec. 26, with afternoon delays reaching nearly double congestion-free drive times in major U.S. cities.

“Holiday cheer is at an all-time high this year, with unemployment at historically low levels, and noted improvements in both disposable income and household net worth,” said Paula Twidale, vice president, AAA Travel. “Travelers should be getting used to crowded highways and airports, as this marks the eighth straight year of new record-high travel volumes for the year-end holidays.”

For those who are planning to drive, December is finally bringing cheaper gas prices to pumps across the country. Today’s average is $2.55, which is nearly a nickel cheaper than the beginning of the month.

Decreasing gasoline demand and increasing stocks are driving the change in pump prices.

The latest Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports show gasoline demand at its lowest rate since mid-February and the highest stock levels since this summer.

“As the weather turns colder, people tend to drive less and we see less gasoline demand,” said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson. “This is causing gas prices to be less expensive. In the lead up to the holidays we may see a small spike in demand, but not enough to impact gas prices substantially.”

Today’s national average is two cents cheaper than last week, a nickel cheaper than last month, but 18 cents more expensive than this time last year.