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July 4 expected to bring heavy travel; gas price rise likely

Fizscy via Flickr

TALLAHASSEE — Average gasoline prices in Florida decreased 6 cents during the past week, but that trend could change as travel picks up for the extended Independence Day holiday weekend.

Florida motorists on Monday paid an average of $3.35 a gallon for regular unleaded, down from $3.41 a week earlier, according to the AAA auto club. Monday’s average was $1.19 a gallon less than on July 4, 2022.

"Low oil prices have enabled gas prices to remain well below year-ago levels. However, strong demand has created some volatility throughout the past month,” AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins said in a prepared statement. “Even if gas prices bounce higher again soon, Independence Day road trippers will pay much less at the pump than they did last year.”

Despite higher costs for air travel and hotels, AAA projects holiday travel will be 3 percent higher than a record total set last year in Florida and 8 percent higher than over the same period in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. The auto club estimates more than 2.81 million Floridians will travel at least 50 miles from Friday through July 4.

“Independence Day weekend appears to be the continuation of what has already been a very strong summer travel season,” AAA Vice President of Travel Debbie Haas said in a statement. “Although airfares and hotel rates are more expensive than last year, Americans are still eager to travel. So, expect to see congested roads, busy hotels, and long lines at airports and attractions.”

More than 2.7 million Floridians ventured over 50 miles during the 2022 period.

Friday is expected to be the busiest day on the road, with average travel times 30 percent longer than normal, according to INRIX, which provides AAA with transportation data and insights.

The vast majority of Floridians traveling more than 50 miles during the holiday period will drive. The state’s highest average gas prices are in the West Palm Beach, Naples and Fort Lauderdale markets, while the Panhandle and Vero Beach areas have the lowest averages, according to AAA.

Even with passengers paying 40 percent to 50 percent more for flights compared to last year, nearly 220,000 Floridians are expected to travel by air. That would be 11 percent more than in 2022 and 13 percent more than in 2019.

Nationally, 50.7 million people are expected to travel more than 50 miles for the holiday, up from 48.7 million in 2022.

AAA said hotel prices are up slightly from last year and that prices typically increase as availability diminishes.

Florida has seen strong travel numbers from other states but has not returned to pre-pandemic levels of international travel. AAA said, however, that summer international hotel bookings are up 80 percent from a year ago.

The Biden administration lifted COVID-19 vaccination requirements for international air travelers on May 11, the same day that a COVID-19 public health emergency ended.

But officials of the Visit Florida tourism-marketing agency have continued to fret about visa wait times in several key international markets.

As an example, the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs website Monday posted a wait time in Bogota, Colombia, for non-immigrant visa appointments of 809 days --- eight days longer than at the start of June.

In Mexico City, it was 751 days. A 434-day wait in Rio De Janeiro was a 34-day improvement from earlier this month.

The backlog has been attributed, at least in part, to staffing shortages at embassies.