Gas prices drop again as the holidays approach, auto association says

Tuesday, December 18, 2012 - 10:18am

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It's beginning to look a lot like, well, 2011 again, at least at the nation's gas pumps.

The national average price of gasoline has dropped to a fraction of a penny under $3.25 a gallon, according to the American Automobile Association. That's the lowest average in almost two years -- welcome news for the estimated 84.4 million Americans planning to hit the roads when the holiday period officially gets underway on Saturday.

It wasn't that long ago when motorists could literally stand in front of a gas station sign and see the numbers increasing right before their eyes. This month's prices have been in reverse.

The average price of gas has dropped every day in December for a total of 15.4 cents a gallon so far for the month, according to the latest statistics from AAA. That's a 4.5% drop in less than three weeks. Since mid-September, the national average price has declined 62.3 cents a gallon (16%.)

When it comes to Christmas travel, money does not always dictate what people decide to do, the travel experts say.

"The year-end holiday season remains the least volatile of all travel holidays as Americans will not let economic conditions or high gas prices dictate if they go home for the holidays or kick off the New Year with a vacation," said AAA President and CEO Robert Darbelnet in a recent statement.

AAA predicts what people don't spend at gas stations could free up money for more spending on presents, dining and entertainment.

Gas prices are expected to drop through the rest of the month and could dip to an average of $3.20 a gallon.

The automobile association averages gas prices to a fraction of a penny, and says the national average price came out to $3.248 a gallon.

Motorists in Missouri are looking at average prices of $2.955, the lowest in the country, the association says. Hawaii tops off with the highest pump costs at $3.979 a gallon, still better than the $4 per gallon motorists there had been seeing throughout the year.

-- CNN's Katia Hetter contributed to this report.

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