NEWS

Bargains await July 4 travelers

Thomas V. Bona

If you’re traveling during the July 4 weekend, chances are you’ll find a lot of bargains. Most travel costs are down from a year ago, some significantly.

But if you’re staying home because you can’t afford a trip, you’re not alone. AAA Chicago projects that 1.9 percent fewer people will travel at least 50 miles this weekend because the recession has tightened budgets.

“Overall, this isn’t a significant decrease,” said AAA spokeswoman Nicole Niemi. “Maybe a family or a person needs to make a choice between a summer vacation now or something in the fall or winter.”

In total, about 37.1 million people will travel this weekend. While it’s not a big drop from 2008 levels, it is a 12.4 percent decline from 2007.

Travel had been up 1.5 percent for Memorial Day weekend, though it’s a lighter travel holiday.

But in general, travel rates have been down the past two years.

Travel by Illinois residents is expected to be about the same as last year, with 1.7 million taking trips.

Here’s what those who are headed out of town can expect:

Traffic and road work

Most people traveling will be on the nation’s highways. AAA projects 33.4 million will travel by motor vehicle, down 2.6 percent from last year.

The Illinois Tollway and Illinois Department of Transportation will limit road closures where possible, but posted speed limits are still in effect in all construction zones. State police continue to patrol those areas with five photo-enforcement vans — speeders will get photographed and could get a ticket by mail.

What it costs

Fourth of July travelers are expected to spend an average of $1,160 per household, AAA said.

Gas prices are down, averaging $2.68 a gallon in the Rockford region and $2.75 a gallon in Illinois on Tuesday, according to AAA’s fuelgaugereport.com. That’s down from more than $4 a gallon a year ago.

According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, airfare is expected to decrease 16 percent from last year, as airlines don’t have to pay exorbitant fuel costs. Hotel rates are down 12 percent, though car-rental rates are up 5 percent.

It’s a great time if you can afford to take a trip, Niemi said, because hotels, resorts and travel companies have slashed prices to try to raise demand. And there’s still plenty of time to get those deals for trips yet this summer, she said.

“People aren’t planning as far in advance,” Niemi said. “They’re waiting until the last minute to get a sense of their own financial situation.”

Thomas V. Bona can be reached at (815) 987-1343 or tbona@rrstar.com.