Mark Bagguns buys gas on Highland Avenue in Atlanta in November. Prices this Christmas week will be higher than last year, but about $1 a cheaper than three years ago. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Why holiday road trips may cost a little more

The ghost of holiday driving future has clanked into view and is revving his engines.

So as you prepare to pack up the goodies, strap in the kids and get your vehicle out on the highway, be forewarned that you can look forward to an awful lot of company on the road – and somewhat higher gas prices.

The statewide average for regular unleaded is $2.19 a gallon, up from $2.13 a month ago, according to AAA spokesman Garrett Townsend. The average on Christmas Day 2015 in Georgia was $1.92.

On the other hand, it was $3.19 on Christmas Day three years ago.

Prices usually drop in the fall and winter as demand ebbs.

A pipeline problem pushed prices up for Georgia in September, and while that problem was relatively short-lived, global forces kept prices from falling as far as they might have when service was restored.

In metro Atlanta, average prices rose during the pipeline outage from about $2.15 a gallon to $2.51. Atlanta’s average on Monday was $2.20 a gallon, according to GasBuddy.

Crude oil a year ago was selling for less than $37 a barrel. It is now above $50 – and oil prices are the crucial part of the equation, said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.

“Many states saw average gasoline prices rise last week, and this week may see a similar fate at the pump as retail gasoline prices continue to play a game of catch-up to the three-week rally in oil…”

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Counties has cut back production, as have some non-OPEC members. Moreover, the lower prices of the past several years have undermined incentives to boost production in U.S. fields.

The only state where the average price is less than $2 a gallon now is Oklahoma – and it’s just a penny below. While a few Atlanta stations report prices under two bucks, don’t expect the average to fall that low again soon, DeHaan said.

“In fact, we’re on par to see the largest December increase in gasoline prices nationally since 2010.”

If you are about to head out of town, you will not only pay more per gallon, you also could burn more gas along the way. That’s because there’s likely to be some congestion and lower speeds on some routes at some times of day.

More than 103 million Americans will travel for the holidays – nearly 94 million of them on the road – up 1.5 percent from a year ago to hit an all-time high, according to AAA.

Fueling the increase: more people have jobs, more people with jobs have had raises and gas prices are still relatively low, especially considering inflation.

About 6 million Americans will fly – the most since the holidays at the end of 2004. AAA calculates average air fares at $30 higher than a year ago.

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