- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2008

With Thanksgiving just a week away, holiday travelers have one thing to be thankful for — a huge drop in gas prices.

The national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline has nearly been cut in half over the past four months — from a record high of $4.11 on July 11 to $2.02 on Wednesday — a price that consumers haven’t seen since March 14, 2005.

Prices have dipped below $2 a gallon at many Washington-area gas stations, and consumers were overjoyed to see $1.99 gas Wednesday at an Exxon Mobile station in Riverdale.

Elizabeth Byrd, 55, of Colmar Manor said she enjoyed being able to top off her tank again — something she hasn’t done for quite a while.

“Well, you have to do what you have to do and the higher prices didn’t affect what I had to do, but it did affect my leisurely activities,” Ms. Byrd said. She laughed as she remembered conversations with her friends about seeing $2.99 gas and thinking, “What a great price.”

Chike Nwosu, a 23-year-old University of Maryland student, plans to drive to North Carolina to celebrate Thanksgiving. He checked his route online and was pleased to find that gas prices are even cheaper farther south.

AAA Mid-Atlantic is forecasting still lower prices in the coming weeks.

“We’re going to go back to pre-2005 gas prices. We could be as low as $1.75 nationwide by Christmas,” said John Townsend, public relations manager for the D.C.-based auto club.

Last summer, AAA was expecting gas prices to top $5 a gallon. That forecast turned out to be high, which is “a good reason for people to give thanks this Thanksgiving,” he said.

AAA expects 41 million Americans to travel 50 miles or more this upcoming holiday, and 81 percent of them will go by car. Thanksgiving travel overall is expected to decline 1 percent from last year’s total of 41.6 million; air travel is predicted to drop 7.2 percent from last year, according to AAA.

Oswaldo Bonilla, a 22-year-old maintenance worker from Hyattsville, was encouraged by the dropping gas prices but was still wary of the state of the economy.

“I can go out a little more with the family and go out on weekends,” said Mr. Bonilla, who limited his driving to trips between work and home during last summer’s gas price spikes. “Usually I go to Florida for Thanksgiving to visit family, but with everything going on, I’m keeping it local.”

Airfares have increased 8 percent while car rental rates are up 4 percent from a year ago, AAA said. Increases like that and the overall state of the economy are having an impact on travel that dropping gas prices can’t counteract, Mr. Townsend said.

“The one thing now holding [holiday travel] up is the decline in gas prices,” Mr. Townsend said. “Who would have thought that gas prices would be the thing that saved the Thanksgiving holiday?”

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