Pricey journey ahead for Bay Area Thanksgiving travelers


As Bay Area travelers hit the road again for Thanksgiving this year, they can expect to pay much more for everything from gas to rental cars to Ubers — in some cases double the price.

The return to jam-packed freeways on Wednesday’s traditional getaway day comes a year after a holiday in the thick of the COVID pandemic, which brought open roadways and the cheapest gas prices in years. In an effort to reduce this year’s punishing fuel prices, President Biden on Tuesday ordered the release of 50 million barrels of crude oil from America’s strategic reserves in tandem with other major oil-producing nations.

But it’s unclear how much, if any, relief motorists will see at the pump for their Thanksgiving journeys. In market trading after Tuesday’s announcement, oil prices shot up roughly 2% instead of falling.

“The problem is that everybody knows that this measure is temporary,” Claudio Galimberti, senior vice president for oil markets at Rystad Energy, told the Associated Press. “So once it is stopped, then if demand continues to be above supply like it is right now, then you’re back to square one.”

The sticker shock is causing a ripple effect across the travel industry — and in Bay Area residents’ wallets.

Gas prices: California has long held the title of highest gas prices in the country due to sizable fuel taxes, and this year will be no exception. But statewide prices hit an all-time high earlier this month before dipping slightly in recent days to an average of $4.64 a gallon, over $1.50 more than last year. In the Bay Area, prices are still near $5 a gallon. The high gas prices have not deterred drivers from taking to the roads. Over 48.3 million people, only 3% less than 2019, are expected to travel by automobile this Thanksgiving, according to AAA.

OAKLAND, CA – NOVEMBER 23: The Prices at the Mobil gas station on 40th Street and Broadway are photographed in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

“I chose not to fly because of COVID,” said Jane Richardson, who drove to Oakland from Los Angeles for Thanksgiving. On Tuesday she paid $4.79 a gallon to refill her Toyota Prius. “It felt worth it, I was willing to pay the extra money.”

Flying: For the hundreds of thousands of people traversing Bay Area airports, the cost of domestic air travel is up about 23%, with the average round-trip costing $300, but still down 11% from 2019, according to travel booking app, Hopper.

Ride-hailing: Getting to and from the airport will also see a significant price increase for many who are unable to take public transit or convince a friend to brave the airport traffic. According to the latest figures provided by YipitData, a research firm that tracks Uber and Lyft rides nationally, the cost of standard rides in the greater San Francisco area reached an all-time high this October, with fares 22% higher than October 2019.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- APRIL 29: Uber and Lyft decals are affixed to the window of an idled vehicle in San Francisco, Calif., Wednesday, April 29, 2020. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Uber and Lyft prices have skyrocketed in recent months amid a driver shortage that has impacted the industry. While driver staffing numbers are starting to recover, riders should expect price surges at airports. Sergio Avedian, a Los Angeles-based ride-hail driver and senior contributor at The Rideshare Guy website, said the high prices are in part fueled by the staffing issues and an end to the “subsidized fantasyland” of cheap pre-pandemic rides bankrolled by venture capital.

“The prices are going to be high and the prices are going to stay high,” said Avedian, adding that he often sees riders pay more than double pre-pandemic levels.

An Uber spokesperson told the Bay Area News Group that more drivers are on the road now than any time during the pandemic, but warned riders to expect the service to be “even busier than years past. You may see elevated surge pricing. If you’re not in a rush, try waiting a few minutes to request your ride as prices can go down.”

Rental cars: People renting cars this Thanksgiving and continuing into the Christmas holiday season are also noticing eye-brow raising prices for everything from compact vehicles to the large vans popular with road-tripping families. The rental-car industry is still struggling to recover from their pandemic-induced sell-off of vehicle inventory as a global shortage of microchips has curbed new car production.

“The whole supply chain is messed up. We’ve been running pretty tight for months now,” said Todd Connors, a co-owner of Rent-A-Relic, an East Bay-based independent rental car agency. He said compact vehicle rentals are starting right around $60 a day if you can land one. “People are already running out of cars for Christmas. My only advice, because prices are crazy is to book early and lock in a car.”

While prices are high, those looking to rent a car may have better luck with locally-owned businesses like Service Rent-A-Car in San Jose, which still has an ample supply of vehicles available. Morgan Newby, a manager, said a good “rule of thumb” is for prices to double from around $49 to $100 a day around holidays.

“If they’re looking for a car last-minute. I have them available, so give me a call,” said Newby.

On Tuesday Chance Ward was about to head out for a 2,400-mile-long journey to Lexington, Kentucky.

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