Tough economic times are knocking down predictions for year-end travel. Triple-A-Iowa’s Mitch Beaumont says the forecast now calls for 64-million Americans to be hitting the road during the final week of the year, a decrease of more than two-percent from last year and the first drop in Christmas travel since 2002.

“Despite this year’s decline, the number for 2008 is actually ten-percent higher than what we had in the year 2000,” Beaumont says. “Last year’s number was actually a record, so while we’re seeing a decline, we’re still seeing very high numbers, very good numbers for the number of Americans traveling this Christmas.” He blames the decline on two key factors.

The economy is the biggest reason, Beaumont says. “There are millions of Americans who do have less money to go ’round this Christmas,” he says. “Also, there are fewer flights leaving American airports this Christmas season. We saw that with Thanksgiving as well. So with fewer flights, you’re going to have fewer passengers in general.”

Gasoline prices are usually a big factor in travel numbers but this year’s decline is in spite of gas prices being the lowest in four years. Beaumont says, “Motorists are saving more than $35 per fill-up from the record highs that we saw in July, so if you’re taking an eight-hour trip, that money will add up quickly and will be a nice savings at this time of year.”

Iowa gas prices hit a record high of $4.02 a gallon back in July. The current statewide average is a $1.72 a gallon, five cents above the national average.