116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
With Labor Day weekend approaching, Iowans hitting the road should plan ahead and prepare for traffic delays, given that more travelers are expected to take advantage of the final three-day weekend of the summer, despite high gas prices.
AAA predicts this will be the busiest Labor Day travel weekend in three years, reaching pre-pandemic levels similar to Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends this year, despite inflation, higher airfares and gas prices pinching household budgets.
“It’s the last really big summer holiday you can get away for before going into and truly settling into the school year, and we’re still anticipating a fair number of people …. to travel over this last three-day holiday,” said Meredith Mitts, public affairs special for AAA Minnesota/Iowa.
While gas prices have fallen for 10 consecutive weeks to below an average of $4 a gallon nationwide, prices in Iowa were 50 cents higher on average than last Labor Day.
As of Thursday, the average price of gas across the state was about $3.51 a gallon, down more than $1 from a peak of $4.76 in June and less than the national average of about $3.83 a gallon.
In the Cedar Rapids metro area, the average price on Thursday was about $3.48 a gallon. The same time last year drivers in Cedar Rapids and across the state were paying around $3 a gallon on average over the Labor Day weekend, according to AAA.
Mitts said she anticipates gas prices may level off or tick up slightly over the holiday weekend but does not anticipate a major spike.
“Around the holidays we occasionally see gas prices go up as travelers hit the road, but we have not seen a turn around in prices at this point,” Mitts said. “One thing we will need to keep an eye on for now is the weather as hurricane season arrives, which can affect oil prices by impacting oil production in the Gulf of Mexico and coastal refineries.”
Inflation as well is expected to impact travel plans, with Iowans opting for shorter trips closer to home, Mitts said.
“Generally speaking, throughout the summer instead of completely canceling trips, families are taking slightly shorter trips over the course of the summer and cutting costs in other areas — staying at more budget-friendly accommodations or doing one less excursion” to accommodate for the rising cost of goods and gas in their family budget. Mitts said.
'Feeling the crunch’
That was true Thursday afternoon for Dean and Sandy Schnack of Cedar Rapids, who cracked a few beers and jokes with friends Dan and Sheran Gatto as they lounged in front of the Schnacks’ 28-foot-long camper at Wanatee Park in Marion.
“Because of gas prices, we don’t go very far,” Dean Schnack said. “Were gas prices lower and where they were last year, we would have ventured out further. Pulling something like this only gets 8 miles to the gallon.”
Sandy Schnack said the couple arrived at the park on Monday to reserve a spot in anticipation of a busy Labor Day weekend at the campground.
“I think everyone is feeling the crunch a little bit,” Dan Gato added. “With inflation the way it is, your meat prices are up, vegetable prices — everything is up across the board. It doesn’t affect us so much because we’re retired and we don’t have a young family anymore. But people with young families, I can see how they’re tightening their belts and making the penny go as far as they can make it go.”
Fellow camper Tomi Clarke of Cedar Rapids agreed.
Were prices lower, Clarke said she and her husband likely would have headed south to visit her daughter in Georgia.
“But, now, we’re going to stay up here with the son and four grandkids” in the couple’s camper at Wanatee Park, Clarke said.
Mitts said travelers are paying about $100 to $200 more on average for airfare, hotels and car rentals this summer holiday than in recent years.
AAA found that the average lowest airfare was about $180 a ticket, an almost 20 percent increase over last year and a 30 percent increase over 2020.
Cost for the average lowest midrange hotel was $233 a night, up more than 50 percent over the past two years.
The average lowest car rental rate was about $90 a day, an 32 percent increase from 2020.
AAA expects traffic to be heaviest Friday afternoon and late Monday afternoon and recommends traveling at off-peak hours if possible.
“Plan for traffic. Be prepared that trip will take a little longer, depending on how you hit traffic, including in major cities,” Mitts said.
That includes slowing down and moving over when approaching emergency vehicles, including tow trucks, and stranded motorists with disabled vehicles on the side of the road.
“Report erratic driving and use a safe following distance so you have time to react,” Mitts added.
AAA also recommends preparing your vehicle for a trip. That includes checking tire pressure and tread; changing the oil and topping off fluids; making sure the battery is in good working order; checking the air conditioning and headlights; and stocking an emergency kit with jumper cables, tools, first aid supplies, snacks, water and a flashlight with fresh batteries.
The Auto Club Group expects to assist more than 545,000 motorists across the United States between Sept. 1 and 6.
For those taking to the skies, all major airports will be packed, AAA expects, with domestic bookings up 22 percent and international reservations up 104 percent compared to last year.
Travel experts recommend catching the first flight of the day to avoid delays and using carry-ons to avoid lost luggage.
Comments: (319) 398-8499; firstname.lastname@example.org
AAA is reactivating its free “Tow to Go” program in Iowa for the holiday weekend to help impaired drivers and their vehicles get home safely.
When called, a tow truck transports the impaired driver and his or her vehicle to a safe location within a 10-mile radius. The service is free and available to non-members. However, AAA encourages individuals to choose a designated driver before celebrating and asks the service be used as a backup plan and last option for anyone in a location where they do not feel safe.
According to AAA, “Tow to Go” has removed more than 25,000 impaired drivers from the road.
The service is available from 6 p.m. Friday, to 6 a.m. Tuesday by calling (855) 2-TOW-2-GO or (855) 286-9246.
AAA tow trucks are limited to one passenger. Additional passengers need to make other arrangements.
Appointments cannot be scheduled in advance, as the program is a safety net.
In some situations, AAA may need to make other arrangements to get an impaired individual a safe ride home, and the service may not be available in rural areas or during severe weather.