LOS ANGELES — To drive or not to drive? This Memorial Day weekend, with soaring gas prices redefining pain at the pump, that is the question for many Americans as a new surge of COVID-19 also sweeps across the country. .
For Marvin Harper of Phoenix, his family’s weekend travel plans are a double punch in the wallet. His college-aged son and daughter each have a soccer tournament in Southern California and Colorado, respectively. He and his daughter will go to Denver, rather than drive, because of the cost of fuel, while his wife and son will go to California in his SUV.
“My mother-in-law is going with my wife and son to split that cost because it’s too expensive for our household,” Harper said, as he filled his truck’s gas tank during a QuikTrip from Phoenix. “We can’t afford to drive together. That’s the end result… Gas prices are killing our household.”
For some, this is exactly what caused them to rethink their vacation plans, making them opt for a stay in their backyard to limit the damage to their wallet.
Laura Dena and her sons typically traveled to Southern California around Memorial Day weekend to escape the scorching Arizona heat. This year, because it takes at least $100 to fill up your truck, they’re staying home.
“It’s really frustrating,” Dena said while queuing in 90-degree heat for a pump at Costco in Phoenix. “It’s upsetting, but there’s not much we can do. We have to pay the price.”
The average gasoline price in the United States on Thursday was $4.60 a gallon, according to AAA figures. In California, it topped $6. The high price of oil – largely because many buyers refuse to buy Russian oil due to its invasion of Ukraine – is the main cause of high gasoline prices.
The price hike coincides with a surge in COVID-19 that has led to as high a case count as it has been since mid-February, and those numbers are likely a major undercount due to results from unreported positive home tests and asymptomatic infections.
Yet 2 1/2 years of pandemic life has many people hitting the road or taking to the skies, despite the surge. AAA estimates that 39.2 million people in the United States will travel 80 miles or more from home over the holiday weekend.
These projections — which include travel by car, plane and other modes of transportation like trains or cruise ships — are up 8.3% from 2021 and would bring travel volumes back from the Memorial Day near 2017 levels. Estimates are still below pre-pandemic levels of 2019, a record year for travel.
About 88% of those 39.2 million travelers – a record number – are expected to travel by car over the long weekend, even if gas prices remain high, according to AAA spokesman Andrew Gross.
In California, despite being home to the highest gas prices in the country, the state’s nonprofit tourism agency is also predicting a busy summer for the Golden State, starting this weekend. .
Ryan Becker, spokesman for Visit California, said his agency is seeing strong “pent-up demand” because of the pandemic: “I want to go out, I want to travel. I had to put my birthday trip on hold, I had to suspend my trip for my 40th birthday.”
Outdoorsy, an online motorhome and motorhome rental marketplace, notes that its renters have changed their plans during the pandemic. At first, people rented an RV to cross the country safely and visit family. Now they’re back to using RVs as a cost-effective way to vacation in the great outdoors.
“I think everyone needs a vacation, I really do,” said Outdoorsy co-founder Jen Young. “Have we ever had a more stressful and difficult time – mentally, physically and spiritually – in our lives?”
Others ignore the stress of extra travel costs because it’s beyond their control. At a Chevron station in Los Angeles’ Glassell Park neighborhood, Ricardo Estrada tried to guess how much the $6.49 a gallon price would cost him in total for his Nissan work van.
“I’ll go with $60 to $70,” the HVAC technician speculated, watching the display as the price rose and rose.
Estrada—just missing a guess when the pump registered $71.61 for 11 regular-grade gallons—was forced to raise its business fee for customers to ride out gas prices. He will be working over the holiday weekend but has a vacation planned in Arizona next month.
It flies, but only for convenience, not cost.
But with airfare prices rising too – AAA found that the lowest average airfare for this weekend is 6% higher than last year – that’s not a bad either. sure bet.
Tang reported from Phoenix. Associated Press video reporter Terry Chea in San Francisco contributed to this report.