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Gas prices still on the rise for Memorial Day travel

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

As average gas prices edge ever-closer to $4 a gallon in Georgia, roughly the same number of Georgians are traveling as traveled last year.

Despite rising travel and fuel costs, American Automobile Association (AAA) officials expect that about one million Georgians will travel for the Memorial Day Weekend. About 6.8 million in the Southeast will travel for Memorial Day vacations.

Officials expect that 827,100 Georgia drivers will have driven to their destinations this weekend, with 179,500 having traveled by air.

"Rising gasoline prices won't keep us from enjoying our family vacations," said Kevin Bakewell, senior vice president of AAA Auto Club South. "They'll just keep some of us a little closer to home. The important thing to remember is that the lion's share of the vacation budget goes to hotel or motel accommodations and eating in restaurants ... the cost of gasoline still amounts to a very small proportion of the typical family vacation budget - usually less than 10 percent."

AAA's Leisure Travel Index shows the cost of flights over the holiday weekend averaging 5 percent more this year than last year. Officials at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport expect to be busier than last year, projecting 1.4 million going through the airport during the holiday weekend.

Hotel rates are also about 13 percent higher than in 2007. Rental car rates have gone down about 16 percent from a year ago. Renters are paying an average of $31, roughly $6 less than last year.

Last week, travelers saw gas price averages above $3.75 per gallon for regular unleaded gasoline. Going into the holiday weekend, on Friday, gas prices averaged $3.87 in Georgia - 34 cents higher than in April and 65 cents higher than this time a year ago.

Metro Atlanta gas prices averaged $3.88 per gallon, but in parts of California, prices are already consistently above $4 per gallon. On Friday, gas customers paid $4.11 for regular unleaded at the pump in Salinas, Calif., and $4.12 in Fresno, Calif. There, diesel fuel averaged around $4.95 per gallon.

While those prices have remained at record levels, there may be some good news that could help slow those soaring prices this week, according to AAA Auto Club South Spokesman Randy Bly.

Bly said the most recent report from the U.S. Department of Energy indicates an adequate fuel supply and increased operating refinery capacity of 86.6 percent, up 1.6 percentage points over the week prior. Many market analysts predict that crude oil prices will fall this week due to overall decreased demand.

Some analysts believe crude oil prices will increase or remain near current levels because there are few signs that the U.S. Dollar will gain value. Saudi Arabia's move to increase production by 300,000 barrels per day in itself is not enough to bring down oil prices, but it remains a strong support for the supply side of the equation, according to AAA Auto Club South.

"This news combined with reports that consumers have cut back on fuel consumption, and 0.9 percent fewer motorists projected to travel [over the Memorial Day Weekend], may well result in 'calmer' prices at the pump this week," Bly said.