Published: May 19, 2011 4:51 PM EDT
Updated: May 19, 2011 3:54 PM EDT

FORT MYERS, Fla.-- AAA projects a slight 0.2 percent increase in the number of Americans who plan to take a trip of 50 miles or more this Memorial Day weekend (Thursday, May 26 to Monday, May 30) compared to 2010. This means 34.9 million Americans are expected to travel later this month versus the 34.8 million who traveled last year.

However, the profile of the American traveler changed this year after retail gas prices jumped more than $1 from last year.

Travelers with a household income less than $50,000 a year make up 31 percent of total travelers, down 10 percent from 2010. While those traveling with household incomes between $50,000 and $100,000 increased 6 percent and travelers with an income of more than $100,000 increased 5 percent.

“The rising fuel costs this year have had a more significant affect on those with lower household discretionary spends since filling up their tank takes a bigger cut of their overall budget,” said Brent Hubele, vice president, Travel, AAA Auto Club South. “Compared to last year, we have seen a shift in traveler demographics as a result of increased gas prices.”

While the number of families traveling this year showed relatively no change, single-adult travelers decreased by 5 percent and two-adult parties increased by 3 percent.

Overall, automobile travelers this Memorial Day weekend are projected to decrease about 0.3 percent from last year. Despite high gas prices, the decrease in auto travelers is not as sharp as expected, since many travelers will take shorter trips of 50 to 150 miles roundtrip. This year, 19 percent of all travelers will take a trip of 50 to 150 miles roundtrip, an increase of 5 percent from last year.

“Americans still want to start the summer off with a few days of relaxation, but with tighter budgets as a result of increased gas prices, more people plan to take a trip closer to home and enjoy local attractions and activities,” said Hubele.

Air travel showed the greatest increase among the various modes of transportation, with an increase of 11.5 percent nationwide for a total of 2.93 million people expected to travel via airplane. This is attributed to the fact that more people are traveling with a greater amount of disposable income from households with an income of $50,000 or more annually.

“The change in travelers' profile and party size and composition is the main reason we are seeing an increase in airline travel this year, despite increased airfares and associated fees,” said Hubele. “The increase in air travel is also why we there is an increase in total distance traveled from last year.”

On average, the total distance traveled this year for the Memorial Day weekend is 792 miles roundtrip—an increase of more than 100 miles from the 626 miles traveled in 2010.

The increase in total miles traveled is attributed to the sharp rise in airline travel. More people are taking a trip of 151 to 400 miles than last year, and those traveling more than 1,500 miles roundtrip increased 2 percent from 2010.

Despite the slight increase in overall travel, the amount travelers will spend this year is down from 2010. The average amount travelers plan to spend is $692 compared to the $809 spent last year. The change is likely the result of the planned activities, which are less expensive then years past.

Fuel costs will account for roughly 31 cents to every dollar spent, an increase of 4.4 percent from the 25 cents last year, with less money spent on entertainment, recreation, and shopping.

More travelers will participate in less expensive activities such as touring/sightseeing (37%), beach recreation (36%), hiking/biking (25%), visit historic sites (23%), and visit national and state parks (19%).