July 4 travel seen down 1.3 percent: AAA

NEW YORK Thu Jun 26, 2008 1:26pm EDT

A passenger walks by the empty counter at the United Airlines Terminal at O'Hare International airport in Chicago June 4, 2008. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes

A passenger walks by the empty counter at the United Airlines Terminal at O'Hare International airport in Chicago June 4, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Jeff Haynes

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - For the first time in 10 years, fewer Americans will be hitting the road for the Independence Day holiday weekend as they feel the pinch of gasoline prices over $4 per gallon, auto and travel group AAA said on Thursday.

Some 40.45 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the July 4th holiday weekend, down 1.3 percent, or nearly 550,000, from the 41 million who traveled last year, according to the survey.

AAA's projections were based on an online survey of more than 2,000 adults nationwide, and an additional 6,500 Americans surveyed from the top 10 states of travel origin.

"Clearly, gas prices are continuing to take a toll on the traveler's budget, but the travel industry is responding, as they have in the past, with discounts, promotions and other incentives to get people traveling this holiday," AAA President and CEO Robert Darbelnet said in a press release.

If Fourth of July holiday travel declines, it will mark the second travel holiday in 2008 that more Americans decided to stay at home. Travel during the May Memorial day holiday decreased for the first time in 6 years.

Average retail gasoline prices have reached $4.07 per gallon, more than a $1 per gallon, or 36 percent, above year-ago levels.

Almost 85 percent will travel by car, while 11 percent expect to travel by plane. The greatest number of July 4th holiday travelers will come from the Southeast, while most air travelers will come from the West.

Even if they leave their cars at home, holiday travelers can expect to pay more for other costs.

Air fares have jumped 13 percent, while car rental rates have increased 12 percent, AAA said.

Independence Day is traditionally the busiest travel weekend of the summer and boosts peak demand for motor fuel in the world's biggest energy consumer.

(Reporting by Richard Valdmanis and Rebekah Kebede; Editing by Walter Bagley)

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