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Car or plane for holiday travel?

Staff writer |
Drivers will make up about 89.5 percent of holiday travelers this year, a gain of 0.1 percentage point from 2013, while air passengers will drop by the same amount to 7.5, forecasts prepared by IHS.

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A 0.1 point increase may not seem like a lot, but based on last year's estimate that 39.6 million people traveled by car for Thanksgiving, that would roughly equate to at least another 40,000 people piling onto America's highways.

The car-over-plane travel choice is made easier by the fact that airfares aren't coming down as gasoline pump prices are. While the plunge in oil has driven down wholesale jet fuel prices 17 percent since August, almost matching the 18 percent drop in retail gasoline, airfares have risen 3.4 percent over that time, data compiled by industry groups show.

At $2.863 a gallon, U.S. pump prices have tumbled to the lowest seasonally in five years, while domestic plane fares are the highest since at least 2008.

Airlines are emerging from years of mergers and losses, rising expenses and high fuel costs, so they'll pocket any savings to keep “paying the bills,” John Heimlich, chief economist for the trade group Airlines for America, said in a call with reporters.

Airlines will face the stiffest competition for those traveling 300 to 600 miles (483 to 965 kilometers), said Severin Borenstein, director of the University of California's Energy Institute in Berkeley, California.

Online travel company Priceline estimated Nov. 12 that a Los Angeles resident driving 370 miles to Phoenix would spend $92.40 on fuel versus $261 on airfare.

A 3,000-mile haul across-country to New York would cost $690 by car and $494 by plane, the Norwalk, Connecticut-based company said. The driving estimates account for fuel costs only and don't include other expenses such as car maintenance, tolls and parking.

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