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U.S. July 4 travel expected to rise on improving consumer spending

NEW YORK - About 41 million Americans will hit the road or board a plane for the Fourth of July holiday weekend, travel group AAA forecast on Thursday.

This would represent a 1.9 percent increase from the same period last year, according to AAA's annual Fourth of July travel forecast.

Most U.S. travelers - about 84.9 percent - will celebrate their country's independence with an all-American road trip, the highest percentage since the recession that started in 2007.

"Demand for gasoline is improving," said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. "You can only stay in your house so long before you want to take to the road."

Although gas prices are at a six-year high, continued improvements in the job market and rising home values are boosting consumer spending, the AAA said.

"Steady improvement in the economy has spurred increased consumer confidence and spending," said AAA Chief Operating Officer Marshall L. Doney. "Optimistic Americans are more willing to take on debt this year, dusting off their credit cards to pay for a much-needed Independence Day getaway."

As the economic outlook continues to improve, U.S. drivers likely are willing to face the highest gas prices for Independence Day since 2008. Today's national average price of gas is about 20 cents per gallon more expensive than the average on July 4, 2013, which was $3.48 per gallon.

Gas prices usually decline in the weeks leading to Independence Day, but this summer the insurgency in Iraq continues to fuel concerns over potential oil supply disruptions.

Air travel is expected to increase more than 1 percent this year to 3.1 million travelers, as round-trip airfares have declined 5 percent, with discounted fare for the top 40 U.S. routes down $13 from last year, according to AAA data.

Travel volume for Independence Day has grown four out of the past five years and is expected to be more than 6 percent higher than the average of the past 10 years.