driving_web.jpgThanksgiving travel in the U.S. is projected to increase 4 percent this year from 2010, with more than 42.5 million Americans taking a trip of 50 miles or more away from home between Wednesday, Nov. 23 and Sunday, Nov. 27.

Auto remains the preferred method of travel this Thanksgiving with 38.2 million Americans, also up 4 percent from last year. Auto travelers make up 90 percent of all holiday travelers.

“This is definitely a positive sign for the travel industry,” said Brent Hubele, AAA Travel vice president. “Despite sluggish economic news, more people plan to travel this year than last, showing a slow, but steady recovery. Pent-up demand is likely the dominate factor contributing to the increase in the number of holiday travelers.”

Almost 3.4 million leisure travelers (8 percent of holiday travelers) were expected to fly during the holiday weekend, a 1.8 percent increase from 2010. Fuel costs, combined with steady air travel demand and capacity cuts have resulted in rising airfares over the past year. 

According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, Thanksgiving airfares are expected to be 20 percent higher than last year with an average lowest round-trip rate of $212 for the top 40 U.S. air routes. The combination of higher fares and lower availability of seats is expected to limit air travel growth this holiday to less than half of total traveler growth.

Amtrak again prepared for the rail service's busiest travel period of the year with extra trains and rail cars added to routes. The two busiest travel days were expected to be the day before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after, Nov. 27.

Amtrak saw record ridership last year with more than 700,000 passengers during Thanksgiving week.

Customers are advised to purchase tickets early to avoid the rush and arrive at the station early on the day of travel. There's a limit of two carry-on bags per person on Amtrak trains. Passengers should make sure luggage is tagged with a name and address, and carry a valid photo ID at all times; it may be requested aboard trains.

Photo: Stock photo