Travelers will pay more this year, whether driving or flying, says AAA Oregon Public Affairs Director Marie Dodds.




"Even though gas prices have inched down the past few weeks, prices at the pumps are still at unprecedented levels for this time of year. And airfares are averaging 16 percent more than last Christmas, meaning bargains are tough to find for those flying to their destinations," she said.




AAA estimates 65.2 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the Christmas-New Year's holiday period, only a 0.7 percent increase from last year's 64.7 million travelers.




Mary Pat Parker, Ashland Chamber of Commerce's director of public relations and marketing, said those figures sound about right.




"Despite the higher costs, I think people are still going to get in their cars and drive the 50 or so miles to spend the holidays with their families," she said. "I think this year people aren't spending money on extravagant presents, opting instead to just spend time with their families."




Approximately 53 million travelers expect to go by motor vehicle, a 0.9 percent increase from the 52.5 million who drove in 2006. AAA expects 8.9 million Americans to travel by airplane, a slight decrease of 0.3 percent from last Christmas holiday. A projected 3.3 million travelers will go by train, bus or other mode of transportation.




The national average for regular unleaded gasoline is about 70 cents more than last year, while Oregon's average is about 38 cents more. But gasoline isn't the only thing that's more expensive this year. According to AAA's Leisure Travel Index, the average price for an airline ticket is up 16 percent for travel during the week of Christmas and 9 percent during the week of New Year's, after no change in price from 2005 to 2006.




The only area of relief for travelers comes by way of lower car rental rates. Those renting a car during the week of Christmas will find prices four percent less than last year and 13 percent less if renting a car during the week of New Year's.




Rich Parker, rental manager of Butler super-saver rentals in Ashland, said their prices are the same as last year.




"During this season, quite a few people do rent vehicles from us," he said. "We will have 35 or 40 cars out around Christmas and New Year's."




Rich said people have a tendency to react to the weather. "When it gets bad, people don't want to have to put on chains when they're traveling; so they rent a four-wheel or all-wheel vehicle from us. It also might be an issue of needing more room for presents or extra passengers."




Jonathan Warren, owner of both Best Western hotels in Ashland, said December is generally quiet until Christmas.




"And then it gets crazy, especially when the highway closes. I think we sold 40 rooms in less than an hour right before the storm last Christmas," said Warren.




Warren said that even though December is a quiet time for the hotel industry, he's seeing an even bigger decline than in past years.




"That could be due to the higher cost of gasoline," he said.




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