A record-breaking 8.7 million Texans will celebrate the holidays away from home, and motorists can expect peak congestion on Wednesday and Thursday as commuters mix with holiday travelers, according to AAA Texas.
Locally, gas prices have dropped in recent weeks to near $2 per gallon, but that’s still higher than last year at this time.
“The 90 percent of holiday travelers choosing to drive will find the most expensive year-end gas prices since 2014. This December’s national average price is $2.47 (Dec. 1-13), which is 28 cents more than last December,” according to a AAA news release. “The good news is that AAA does expect the average to drop at least another five cents by year-end, saving motorists a few pennies at the pump.”
AAA forecasts that 8.7 million Texans will take to planes, trains, automobiles and other modes of transportation during the year-end holiday period from Dec. 23 through Jan. 1. For Texas, this would be a 2.7 percent increase in total travel volume compared to 2016, and the highest year-end travel volume on record for the state.
Across the United States, AAA forecasts 107.3 million total Americans will travel during the same time period. This will be the highest year-end travel volume on record and a 3.1 percent increase in travel volume compared with last year. 2017 marks the ninth consecutive year of rising year-end holiday travel. Since 2005, total year-end holiday travel volume has grown by 21.6 million, an increase of more than 25 percent.
“More expensive gas prices are not swaying holiday revelers to stay home,” said Bill Sutherland, AAA senior vice president, Travel and Publishing. “In fact, across the board this year, travel has increased year-over-year for every major holiday weekend – Memorial Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving.”
In Killeen on Thursday, gas prices were seen as low as $2.01 at the Chevron at 3802 E. Stan Schlueter Loop, and the Walmart at 3801 E. Stan Schlueter Loop. In Harker Heights, Sam’s Club, 600 W. Central Texas Expressway, had gas for $1.94 Thursday.
In Copperas Cove, gas was hovering about $2.05 at several stations.
Based on historical and recent travel trends, INRIX, a global transportation analytics company, expects drivers will experience the greatest amount of congestion before the holiday week: this coming Wednesday and Thursday, in the late afternoon as commuters leave work early and mix with holiday travelers.
Holiday airfares are nearly 20 percent cheaper than last year. At $165, the average end of year holiday airfare for a round-trip flight for the top 40 domestic routes is at a five-year low, according to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index. On average, 2017 airfares are 5 percent less expensive compared to 2016.
According to the American Airlines website on Thursday, the cheapest round-trip airfare from Killeen to Dallas, where many travelers make connecting flights, was listed as $388 for a flight leaving Dec. 23 and returning Dec. 29. The cheapest round-trip ticket on the site from Austin to Dallas on those dates was $195.
Often, people will travel around the holiday season, either to visit other family members or on a vacation. Though it might be tempting to post photos and videos from those trips, always be aware of who is viewing that Facebook page, according to Killeen police leaders. If your profile is not private, you may be advertising an easy heist to potential burglars.
“You hit the airport and what’s the first thing people do?” Killeen Police Chief Charles Kimble said at a community forum last week. “(They post) Now leaving Greater Killeen Airport, headed to Miami, Florida.”
If you are headed out of town for a few days, you can call police and let them know. That way, either a police officer on patrol in that area or a community volunteer can drive by to make sure there’s no suspicious activity.
At last week’s forum, Killeen Police Department leaders said crime typically go up over the holidays.
To help prevent and deter some of those criminals, KPD has beefed up patrols in major shopping areas in the city, such as various Walmart locations and at the Killeen Mall.
“It’s that time of year, everyone’s out spending their hard earned money at the mall,” Kimble said. “And we’re trying to keep the bad guys from getting it.”
Make sure in the days following Christmas, you don’t advertise what gifts you just received by placing the boxes out by the road for the garbage truck to pick up.
Don’t put out your box from your Air Force 1s, your Playstation, your Pandora or Kay’s jewelry box out in front of your house,” Kimble said.
Sometimes the theft doesn’t happen at your home, but over the phone. Officers warned residents in attendance of the grandparent scam, in which people will call grandparent-aged people pretending to be their grandchild and demand some sort of payment as either money to bail that grandchild out of jail or pay some sort of medical bill. Phone calls from IRS agent impersonators are another thing to watch out for.
“You think you’re going to pay the IRS with a $5,000 iTunes card? It’s not going to happen,” Detective Ramiro Martinez said.