AAA: Lower crude oil prices could help ease gas price increases

Gas prices in Pennsylvania are ten cents higher this week at $4.412 per gallon, according to AAA East Central’s most recent Gas Price Report.  

But there may be relief in sight as lower crude oil prices may drive prices back down again. 

After peaking above $123 per barrel shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the price of crude oil has gradually fallen below $110.  

AAA said that if this trend holds, it may remove some of the extreme upward price pressure consumers have found at the pump.  

The national average price of a gallon of gas hit $4.33 on Friday, March 11, before falling a penny and holding throughout today at $4.32. Tuesday’s national average is 14 cents more than a week ago, 82 cents more than a month ago, and $1.45 more than a year ago. 

In the Lehigh Valley the average price on March 15 was $4.410 per gallon, up from last week. On March 8 the price was $4.377 per gallon. 

The current price is dramatically higher than a year ago. The average price for a gallon of gas on March 15, 2021 was $2.978 

AAA reports that according to new data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), total domestic gasoline stocks decreased by 1.4 million barrels to 244.6 million barrels last week. Meanwhile, gasoline demand rose slightly from 8.74 million barrels per day to 8.96 million barrels per day.  

The increase in gas demand and total supply reductions are contributing to rising pump prices. However, increasing oil prices play the lead role in pushing gas prices higher as the cost of crude oil accounts for about 50% of what drivers pay at the pump.  

Consumers can expect the current trend at the pump to continue if crude prices continue to climb, the report said. 

At the close of Friday’s formal trading session, West Texas Intermediate increased by $3.31 to settle at $109.33.  

Crude prices have eased as the market continues to find replacement barrels of oil and further supply growth for the tight market becomes apparent. However, AAA cautioned that the market remains volatile and additional disruptions or escalation of the current crisis in Ukraine could cause prices to surge again this week.  

Additionally, EIA reported that total domestic crude stocks decreased by 1.8 million barrels last week to 411.6 million barrels. The current stock level is approximately 17% lower than at the end of February 2021, which continues to put pressure on domestic crude prices, according to the report. 


AAA: Travel advisers starting to see post-COVID-19 travel boom

Travel is beginning to pick up again as more people become vaccinated and COVID-19 restrictions are eased.

Sally McCorrison, director of travel for AAA East Penn East Central in Allentown, said travel advisers are busier than ever right now.

“It’s picked up even more than we thought. Our agents are busy to the point they tell me ‘we can’t get all our work done by the end of the day,’” she said.

She said the pent up demand from people who love to travel, but haven’t been able to over the past year is definitely showing.

“People are saying ‘I want to get out,’” McCorrison said. “The minute everyone is vaccinated, they call us. Three weeks ago we started to see a boom. We had one customer who booked four trips in two weeks.”

While most of the work has been booking new trips, she said a big part of the work the agents are doing is rebooking travel plans that were cancelled during the height of the pandemic last year. And, despite the improvements, those who were a little too bold with their advanced bookings are still cancelling travel plans to areas that still have restrictions.

McCorrison said there are many places that are open. U.S. destinations by plane, train or motorcoach are heavily in demand. She’s also seeing a great deal of requests for regional travel options.

Florida has been such a popular destination, agents are having trouble finding rooms in some areas, which she said has been frustrating for customers.

“People don’t understand why they can’t get reservations,” she said.

People are also being drawn strongly to Caribbean destinations like Cancun and Jamaica as they look to get that exotic vacation they missed out on last year.

McCorrison said many people are booking trips right away, but there’s been a stronger demand for summer travel, when kids are out of school, and some destinations, like Europe, are getting bookings for later in the fall or even next year.

While some European countries still have travel restrictions, she said some destinations, like Egypt, Iceland and Israel are all now open to foreign tourists.

Cruises from U.S. ports are still limited, so many cruise lines have moved their home ports to places in the Caribbean so that they can still operate, even if it is at lower capacity.

McCorrison said that is going to lead to higher prices. For one, travelers will have to fly to the home port, rather than drive to a U.S.-based shore. Also, with less people on board, prices for the remaining rooms are more expensive.

One of the advantages, however, is that with new home ports, cruise lines are exploring new destination ports as well.

“For years people have been saying they want new ports, and now they’re getting them,” McCorrison said.

As Pennsylvania opens up, pent up people are ready to safely hit the road

It might not be the trip they wanted, or when they wanted it, but people are resuming travel plans, says Janelle Fetrow, network manager of the Reading office of Flight Centre Travel Group.

“Folks are definitely anxious to get out and go away again,” she said.

That’s good news for the hospitality and recreation industry, which has had the highest job loss of any industry. Nearly 60% of those industry’s jobs were eliminated in Pennsylvania in recent months according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And it may be the local attractions that benefit most from Pennsylvanians’ travel.

Looking at the kind of trips being booked for early summer, Fetrow said she’s seeing mostly single-day road trips or travel to domestic locations like Florida beaches and national parks.

That’s similar to what Sally McCorrison, director of travel for AAA East Penn East Central in Allentown is seeing.

“Gas prices have remained low so multi-day road trips, which are our specialty, are becoming an attraction,” she said.

McCorrison said with the limitations on travel in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, such trips are what travel agents were expecting, at least for the short term. AAA’s motor coach trips have been getting a lot of attention and people have been attending their webinars to learn what kind of destinations they can travel to.

Looking into late summer and fall, Fetrow said she’s seeing more people book vacations to Caribbean destinations as more islands and resorts begin reopening themselves to tourism.

And despite some well-publicized stories about travelers being stuck on quarantined cruise ships earlier this year, Fetrow said people are booking cruises because the cruise lines have been offering exceptional deals.

“The prices are untouched and some folks aren’t willing to push back their plans,” she said.

In addition to extremely low prices, the cruise lines are offering deals to people who had to cancel or postpone cruises during the shutdown, McCorrison said. “A lot of people are rebooking and not cancelling.”

Some are offering promotions such as 125% value on re-bookings, which she said many people have been using to get cabin upgrades or book extra services during their vacation.

For those looking to fly, airfare is still surprisingly low, despite dire predictions that prices would skyrocket as airlines try to recoup their losses.

Fetrow said prices were rock bottom during the height of the shutdown, and are now just at about what prices were predicted to be for the summer travel season. European vacations are likely to be the last to return, she said. Most of her clients who were looking to book trips to Europe are looking at dates in 2021. Many popular European cities were particularly hard hit by the coronavirus and have been slow to reopening.

Even for places that have reopened, McCorrison said, many people who want to travel are still concerned about safety. So are airlines, busses and attractions that are beefing up sanitation and working on plans for lower capacity.

She recommends that people concerned about the cleaning levels of a hotel, for example, check to see if it has a AAA Best of Housekeeping badge, which shows its reviewers have inspected the property and have found it to have best practices in cleaning and sanitation.

Both agencies say staying aware of the latest news and changes is important.

While McCorrison said destinations such as the larger Mexican and Caribbean island resorts are already working with airlines on opening dates so flights can be added, that doesn’t mean things can’t change. “Check with the local authorities at a destination to make sure nothing is changed or work with a travel agent that can do that for you,” she said.

Fetrow says it’s now more important than ever to obtain travel insurance before making any major plans. Itineraries can be changed or cancelled. People can get sick. Being quarantined is even a risk.

“There’s so much unknown about the impact of the coronavirus,” she said. “It’s better to be prepared.”