More Americans are expected to hit the road this holiday weekend than last year, meaning larger traffic jams and fewer last-minute deals for families looking to get away.
About 31.2 million travelers are traveling this Memorial Day, up 5.4 percent from last year, according to projections from AAA. The majority of them -- 61 percent -- will spend at least some time with friends and relatives over the long weekend.
"While the economy continues to be rocked by waves of occasional uncertainty, improved economic performance from one year ago should cause more Americans to take vacations this Memorial Day holiday weekend," said Glen MacDonell, director of AAA Travel Services.
Most of those travelers -- 87 percent, according to AAA -- plan to make their journeys by car. The average distance traveled by Americans this Memorial Day holiday is expected to reach 626 miles, about the same as last year.
"Memorial Day is very much a driving vacation," said Anne Banas, executive editor of travel website SmarterTravel "People do fly for Memorial Day but more people hit the road."
Her advice: figure out your traffic hot spots in advance, and try to time your trip to travel through them at off-peak hours.
"Instead of heading out Friday night after work, consider driving Saturday morning instead. Or maybe -- if you can -- get a jump on the holiday and head out Thursday," she said.
AAA said that hotel prices will be down slightly, but probably not enough to see significant savings. Nights at three-diamond properties will drop to and average of $141.60 a night, from $142.45 last year. Two-diamond lodgings will be down 4 percent at an average cost of $99 a night.
And don't expect to be able to just walk into any hotel.
"Increased travel can also mean reduced availability, especially in markets like central Florida, where the opening of exciting new attractions is expected to make the area one of the summer's most popular destinations," MacDonell said.
Still, Banas said there are bargains to be found out there. While airlines can cut the number of seats available to passengers simply by not flying a plane, hotels can't eliminate rooms. That means there is a large oversupply, and many owners will cut rates to fill vacant rooms, especially at the last minute.
"There are a lot of hotels that are slashing prices," Banas said. "I think you could find some really good deals at places within a day's drive."
Leisure air travel is also expected to grow slightly -- about 2.4 percent according to AAA -- with 2.15 million holiday fliers expected over the weekend. Don't expect any last-second discounts here.
"Fares are up from last year, there's no question," said George Hobica, president of airfarewatchdog.com. "In past years, we're talking about the last five years, when business was slower, they had last-minute holiday sales for off-peak travel. We saw fewer and fewer of those even last year."
Hobica recommends passengers arrive at the airport extra early during the busy holiday period.
"The earlier you get to the airport, the better the chances are that you're going to make your connection, because the airlines will be able to put you on an earlier flight at no cost" if there is a delay, he said.
There is no wiggle room in the system anymore, Hobica said, and flights are so full, even in nonpeak travel times.