It looks like more Americans will be on the road this holiday season than last year, and they can count on paying more for gas.
The national average for unleaded regular gasoline rose to $2.984 a gallon on Wednesday, according to a survey by AAA, Wright Express and the Oil Price Information Service. That's about 9 cents more than a month ago and nearly 39 cents more than a year ago. The average could reach $3 a gallon by Christmas, but it's already above that in more than a dozen states.
"It doesn't really make much difference whether we hit it ($3) magically here in the next couple of weeks," said Tom Kloza, publisher of Oil Price Information Service. "We are going to exceed it in gangbusters style somewhere through that March-April-May period," when prices are expected to average between $3.25 and $3.75 a gallon.
Drivers could get a brief respite from higher pump prices after the holidays, in January and February. Gas prices will probably retreat when winter weather keeps many people off the roads.
About 92.3 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles or more from their homes during the Christmas-New Year holidays, an increase of 3.1 percent from a year ago, according to a AAA forecast issued Wednesday. The auto club estimates 93 percent of the travel will be by car. That is a 3.2 percent increase from a year ago.
The average travel distance should increase by 33 percent, and spending will be about 3.5 percent more than a year ago, AAA said.
Pump prices are the highest since October 2008. The increase can be blamed largely on oil prices that have hovered around $90 a barrel recently.
Crude oil prices rose again on Wednesday after the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration released its weekly report on the nation's petroleum supplies. The government said commercial crude supplies fell by 9.9 million barrels to 346 million barrels for the week ending Dec. 10. Oil supplies are still more than 4 percent higher than they were a year ago.
Benchmark oil for January delivery rose 34 cents to settle at $88.62 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.