Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Forget the Staycation: Low-Cost Gasoline Revives U.S. Road Trip

  • Motorists poised to drive more miles than ever in 2016
  • Holiday fuel price may average $2.32 a gallon, GasBuddy Says

The staycation is dead. Long live the great American road trip.

Drivers will use 2.2 percent more gasoline this year between Memorial Day and Labor Day than they did in 2015, according to Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy, an online group that surveys motorists and tracks prices nationwide. And with gasoline costs falling to an 11-year low, U.S. consumers may well breach the all-time high of 9.7 million barrels a day burned in 2007, he said.

Americans drove a record 3.1 trillion miles in 2015, and are poised to surpass that mark this year. Driving in the first quarter rose 4.2 percent from a year earlier, according to U.S. Federal Highway Administration data. AAA, the national automobile club, predicts more than 38 million Americans plan to take trips during the 2016 Memorial Day holiday. That would be the second-highest volume on record.

"In a typical year, gas prices rise 50 cents a gallon before peaking before Memorial Day," said Michael Green, a spokesman for AAA in Washington.

While prices have risen this year as well, they started at such a low level, hitting $1.70 in February, that drivers can expect them to be at or near the lowest point for the start of the Memorial Day weekend in more than a decade. And because prices tend to peak during this weekend, they’ll probably remain low the rest of the summer as well, Green said.

37% Drop

Retail gasoline prices in the U.S. are expected to average $2.32 a gallon on Monday, GasBuddy predicts. That’s a 37 percent drop from just two years ago, when Americans paid an average $3.66 a gallon.

Americans have saved more than $15 billion on gasoline so far this year compared with the same period in 2015, AAA estimates. One reason for the low price has been refiners producing the fuel at full throttle to take advantage of the depressed cost of oil.

The more gasoline that’s sitting in stockpiles, the lower the price. How long that will last is anybody’s guess. For now, a combination of stronger consumer confidence, low gasoline prices and a growing workforce will revive Memorial Day travel and summer road trips this year, according to GasBuddy’s DeHaan.

"Some companies started to say that sales were down because people were staying closer to home,” DeHaan said. “It’s kind of the opposite here now, finally a recipe of decent economy for the time being."

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