Memorial Day weekend gasoline prices are at their highest levels in seven years, but experts don’t expect the steep prices at the pumps to keep eager motorists off the road.
After more than a year of caution during the coronavirus pandemic, there's pent-up demand for travel. And with vaccination rates increasing and coronavirus cases falling, some people are seizing the opportunity for a change of scenery during what has traditionally been one of America’s busiest holiday travel weekends.
“The industry is referring it to as ‘revenge travel,'” said Jeanette McGee, spokeswoman for the American Automobile Association. “People have more discretionary income, they’ve got a lot of PTO (paid time off) saved up, so they’re going to take more trips and spend more money.”
The national average for a gallon of regular gasoline was $3.03 this week. Memorial Day weekend prices have not been this high since 2014, when they averaged $3.65 a gallon.
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Prices recently had been slightly higher than the current average, due in part to fuel delivery problems caused by a cyberattack and then shutdown of a major fuel artery, the Colonial Pipeline. Gasoline prices have largely stabilized since that hacking incident, but prices are expected to remain in the $3-per-gallon range during the summer, experts say.
The vaccine rollout has encouraged a gradual return to normal activities, and a strong labor market is supporting work-related driving, but discretionary driving has room to grow, said Lenny Rodriguez, team lead at S&P Global Platts.
AAA anticipates that 37 million Americans will travel by car and plane on Memorial Day weekend. That's up 60% from last year, when many were cautious about the pandemic and stayed home. But it is still 13% below pre-pandemic travel levels reached during 2019's Memorial Day weekend.
The association recommends filling up the gas tank before arriving at vacation destinations, because gasoline prices can be higher around popular tourist spots.