Gas prices continue to fall over the holidays

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Holiday travelers have another gift coming their way: lower gas prices.

The holiday travel season officially begins Saturday and runs through Tuesday, January 1. AAA estimates that 93.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more during the holidays, and 90 percent of them will go by car. And as drivers plan their routes and pack their vehicles, they'll notice falling prices across the country.

Right now, the national average is $3.24 a gallon, 9.2 cents lower than last week and 17.4 cents less than a week ago. Locally, prices continue falling as well. Knoxville and Maryville both fell below three dollars this week, to $2.97 a gallon.

AAA attributes the falling prices to lower demand and higher inventories. And even though nationwide demand will increase somewhat over the holidays, the group expects it to stay low into the new year.

“Year-end holidays are marked by visiting family and friends which makes it the travel holiday least vulnerable to economic concerns or gas prices,” said Stephanie Milani, public affairs specialist, AAA Tennessee. “We’ll see travel end the year on a strong note and we hope to see more people traveling in 2013.”

Even with lower gas prices, AAA estimates people will spend, on average, six percent more than they did over the 2011 holiday period, likely because consumers will have more money to spend on holiday shopping, dining and entertainment.

Air travelers will notice the impact of lower gas prices too, in the form of cheaper airfares. For the year-end holiday period, the average lowest round-trip price is $203 for the top 40 US air routes. That's down three percent over last year.

People will notice a few increases, however, including slightly higher hotel prices and car rentals going up 41 percent. People staying in hotels will likely spend two to three percent more per night on their rooms.

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