Gas prices favor Memorial Day travelers

The AAA Auto Club Group projects 34.8 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the Memorial Day holiday weekend, an increase of 1.2 percent, or 500,000 travelers, from the 34.3 million people who traveled one year ago.

The Memorial Day holiday travel period, between Thursday, May 24, and Monday, May 28, also is expected to see much lower gas prices than last. The auto group reported Tuesday that average prices are nearly 40 cents cheaper in Georgia this year compared to last.

Over the past week, metro Atlantans have seen prices fall by about a penny per day on average. Consumers paid an average $3.47 per gallon of regular unleaded gas Thursday, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report. Georgia’s average was $3.43 per gallon.

The report also indicated that Georgia gas prices have declined over the past month more swiftly than they increased in the final month of 2011.

Notably, diesel prices have not experienced the same steep descent this spring. The report revealed that, while average gas prices in Georgia have fallen about 30 cents per gallon over the past month, diesel prices meanwhile have dropped by 17 cents per gallon.

“Diesel prices tend to fall slower than gas prices do,” said AAA spokeswoman Jessica Brady. “Diesel is much more widely used [in construction, manufacturing, and transportation] than refined gas, which is mostly consumed in automobiles. So, the demand is typically higher for diesel.”

The national average price for regular retail has fallen ever since peaking at $3.93 on April 6, according to AAA’s Historical Fuel Gauge Report. Prices are expected to retreat further this week as Memorial Day weekend approaches.

“Although AAA forecast 30.7 million Americans will travel via automobile this upcoming holiday, it’s very likely more people will travel as a result of falling gas prices,” said Brady. “Gas price trends have followed the recent reduction in the price of oil, which is expected to continue throughout the month.”

Europe’s bleak economic situation continues to place bearish pressure on oil prices and has for the past several weeks. As a result, the euro is currently at a four-month low against the dollar, reducing the appeal of crude oil as a commodity, thus pushing oil prices lower.

Additionally, she said, consumer confidence in the U.S. fell to its lowest level since January, according to the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index and oil supplies have reached their highest level in more than 20 years.

“Motorists will get the much-needed relief at the pump just in time for the Memorial Day weekend and will likely lead to an increased number of travelers, helping to jump start the summer travel season,” said Brady. “Both oil and gas prices are forecast to decrease this week as global leaders meet to discuss a resolution for Europe’s debt issues.”