Although gasoline prices have been dropping all summer, Labor Day travelers around California are expected to pay the highest price on record for the holiday weekend.
And as gas prices drop, an oppressive Southern California heat wave is expected to persist, forcing some weekend vacationers to alter their travel plans.
The average gas price for a gallon in California and Los Angeles was $5.25 on Thursday, which is 5 cents lower than a week earlier, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California. The previous record for the start of the Labor Day weekend came last year at $4.39 a gallon in California and $4.40 for Los Angeles.
The U.S. average was nearly $3.83 a gallon Thursday, down about a nickel in the last week largely because of lower oil prices.
Gasoline prices began to rise in spring 2020, with the biggest increases starting January 2021, worsened by the pandemic and the destabilizing influence of the Russian war in Ukraine on the energy market. Before prices began to drop at the start of summer, regular-grade gasoline at some California service stations topped $7 a gallon.
Nationwide, about 32% of Americans plan to travel for the Labor Day weekend, with 82% going by automobile and 12% of road trippers traveling at least 50 miles, according to the Auto Club. About 456,000 passengers are expected to fly out of Los Angeles International Airport between Thursday and Monday, which is about 56,000 more fliers than last year, according to Los Angeles World Airports.
Domestic airfares for the holiday weekend will average $278 per round trip, up 23% from 2021 and 20% higher than 2019, according to Hopper, the online travel site.
The high prices and the stifling temperatures are expected to influence travel plans for the last holiday of the summer.
Since COVID-19 cases began to drop last year, travel demand has been surging, which spawned the term "revenge travel," a desire to travel to make up for lost vacations during the pandemic. But the demand for gasoline for the Independence Day holiday nationwide was down compared with the same weekend in 2021, according to GasBuddy, the fuel comparison site, suggesting that higher prices are turning some vacationers off from summer road trips.
“It was a dizzying time as gas prices surged ahead of summer, which caused many Americans to rethink their summer travel plans," Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy, said in a statement.
An August survey by the Auto Club confirmed the effects of high gas prices on summer travel plans. The online survey found that 66% of Americans who were questioned said they traveled less this summer than they typically would, and 80% said they cut back on shopping, driving and going to the movies, among other activities, to save money.
The most popular destinations for Southern California vacationers for the Labor Day weekend are Las Vegas, San Diego, Orlando and Alaska, according to the Auto Club. Since many vacations are booked weeks or months in advance, Auto Club spokesperson Doug Shupe said the heat wave probably won't prompt travelers to change their destinations but is likely to alter their activities.
"You can bet that it's going to be very busy at the poolside," he said.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.