Thanksgiving Day travel won't be record-breaking, but it could be busier than last year, despite higher gas prices and a prediction of lousy weather across much of the nation.
AAA predicts 50.9 million Americans will travel over the holiday, a 3.3 percent increase over 2016 — and the most since 2005. The auto club credits a growing economy and low unemployment for putting people in the mood to travel.
A storm system may slow travel in parts of the country for millions of drivers: The Northwest is expecting rain and snow Thanksgiving week, and the Southeast will receive multiple rain showers.
Here are some tips from experts on how to handle the stress of traveling over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays:
› Apps like those from AAA and GasBuddy can help you avoid traffic snarls and find the cheapest gasoline.
› If you’re flying, take early flights. Lines at security checkpoints tend to be shorter in the early morning, and flight delays build during the day, which can lead to missed connecting flights in afternoon and evening hours.
› Summer Hull, who writes the Mommy Points travel blog, recommends checking the perks on your credit card. You might be entitled to free checked bags, a discount on in-flight food and drinks, lounge passes or other goodies.
› Kids 12 and under don’t need TSA Precheck to use the shorter lines if they’re with a parent who has Precheck.
› Safety experts advise buying a seat for babies and toddlers, but if you’ve got a “lap child” under 2 who is flying free, bring a birth certificate copy because airlines sometimes ask for proof of age.
› If you get bumped off an oversold flight or your flight is delayed excessively, know your rights to fair treatment and compensation. You can find them on the U.S. Department of Transportation website .
› Chris McGinnis, founder of the TravelSkills blog, suggests booking hotels around office parks, which tend to be very quiet and offer great rates because there are few business travelers during the holidays.
"It should be pretty nice Thanksgiving weather, overall," said Jeremy Buckles, meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Morristown, Tenn.
More than 45 million will travel by car between Wednesday and Sunday, the auto club predicts.
"Most of those people who are traveling will be taking a road trip," said Stephanie Milani, public affairs director for AAA Tennessee. "Out of the 1.16 million Tennesseans that will be traveling, those who are taking a road trip, that's 1.1 million."
The rest will fly, take the bus, go on a cruise or hop on a train, she said.
Nationwide, about 4 million people will fly, a 5 percent increase, AAA says.
AAA forecasts that 36,919 Tennesseans will take a flight, Milani said, which is a 4 percent jump.
Thanksgiving isn't its busiest time of the year at Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport, said Terry Hart, the airport's chief executive, since 70 percent of Lovell Field's traffic are business travelers and many of those won't fly this week.
While the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after the holiday will be busy, he believes more people from the Chattanooga area are starting their trips earlier.
"Over the last few years, a lot of people stretch that out," Hart said.
He said the nonstop flights Lovell Field has gained to the New York area and to Chicago on United Airlines will help boost Thanksgiving traffic.
AAA and survey research firm IHS Markit base their forecast on recent and predicted growth in the economy, consumer spending, household wealth and other measures.
Road trips will cost more, however. The national average for a gallon of regular is $2.56, up from $2.16 a year ago.
But Milani said higher gas prices aren't keeping travelers off the road.
"We're seeing that most people have already made their travel plans," she said, "And this moderate shift in gas prices is not enough to deter them from visiting their families and friends."
Car rental rates are also higher than last year, and so are many hotel rooms, according to AAA.
Average airfares on the most popular routes within the U.S. will be the lowest in five years, the group says.
Separately, trade group Airlines for America says the busiest air-travel day is the Sunday after Thanksgiving, followed by the Wednesday before it.
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at email@example.com or www.facebook.com/MeetsForBusiness or on Twitter @meetforbusiness or 423-757-6651.
› Total travelers: 1.16 million Tennesseans will travel 50 miles or more; an increase of 3.2 percent over last year.
›Road trip ready: 1.1 million will take a Thanksgiving road trip; an increase of 3.2 percent over last year.
› Flying high: 36,919 Tennesseans are forecast to take a flight; the most since 46,447 flew in 2006. The 4 percent year-over-year increase is the largest percentage increase among the three major transportation modes.
› Alternate travel: 15,029 Tennesseans will travel by other means like trains, buses and cruises.
› Fueling up: Gas prices in Tennessee averaged $1.94 on Thanksgiving 2016. Prices this year are likely to be the highest since 2014.