TAMPA — With the plummeting price of gasoline reaching 2009 levels, holiday travelers might rethink plunking down $500 or more for round-trip air fare to visit relatives in New York, Boston or Chicago.
A Christmas road trip, rather than a flight, might be in order.
“A lot of people taking trips out there over the holidays are going well beyond what most people want to drive,” said Brett Snyder, president of Cranky Concierge, an air travel assistance service, and founder of the air-travel blog “The Cranky Flier.”
“The reality is that if you have a family and if the trip is under 500 miles,” he said, “then 99 percent of the time, it’s going to be cheaper to drive.”
That doesn’t mean the falling price of fuel won’t help air travelers. Airlines over the past few months have been lowering fares because the cost of jet fuel also is coming down, Snyder said. The fear of terrorism won’t have much of an impact on domestic flights, he said.
“It’s always something that goes into people’s minds,” he said, “Even in the movie theater, that fear is not going to stop me from going into the movies.’’
The terrorism events in Paris and mass shooting in California don’t seem to be hindering travel this month, said Chris Lopinto, president and cofounder of ExpertFlyer, an online travel consultant.
“We don’t see any lessening of demand to fly domestically,” he said. “However, international travel can and has been affected.”
He said the distance of the trip will determine whether travelers fly rather than drive more than gasoline prices.
“Air and car destinations aren’t always interchangeable because of distance,” he said. “However, I would expect to see more driving by car to closer destinations versus just staying at home.”
He said airlines don’t appear to worried the low gas prices will mean they’ll lose passengers.
“No, the airlines are doing fine,” he said. “They don’t have a shortage of passengers during the holiday season, and since they keep capacity tight, most flights will go out full or close to it during the holiday season.”
Lopinto said airlines will lower fares “only if they find they can’t fill all available seats. But you won’t know that until a few days before the flight, if at all.’’
Still, travelers hauling spouses and children may decide to save money by driving, especially now that gasoline prices are bottoming out.
This week, average prices for a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline across the south hit lows not seen in six years, with some service stations in the Tampa area selling a gallon of unleaded regular for under $1.90. Prices in Florida are now the cheapest they’ve been since March 26, 2009, according to analysts with AAA The Auto Club South.
In December 2014, travelers paid an average $2.71 a gallon in Florida for regular unleaded gas. The year before, gasoline cost more than $3 a gallon.
A global oversupply of oil has kept a stranglehold on crude prices. According to industry analysts, crude oil inventories remain near levels not seen for this time of year in at least the last 80 years.
The result is that motorists can find gasoline below $2 a gallon at 46 percent of gas stations in Florida. That percentage should get higher as the holiday season approaches, since December typically is a month where the price of gasoline drops.
“Motorists are now saving an average of $18 for a full tank compared to two years ago when gas prices were above $3,” said AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins. “These savings couldn’t come at a better time, as Americans look to allocate money for holiday shopping and travel.”