With the holiday season almost upon us, a new survey from American Express reports that 30% of U.S. consumers plan to adjust this year’s travel plans for Thanksgiving — historically one of the busiest travel days of the year — but only 21% expect those expenses to decrease compared to last year. Consumer Spending logo

Respondents whose plans are changing said they’ll rely more on automobile travel, stay for a shorter time and cash-in rewards to help pay for holiday trips. The most significant changes are from the young professionals — 37% said they’ve adjusted their plans versus the affluent and general population (both 30%).

  • Nineteen percent of the general population who traveled last year will be staying home in 2009.
  • More than one in ten (11%) young professionals indicated they intend to drive as opposed to fly, compared to 7% of the general population and 6% of the affluent.
  • Eight percent of young professionals intend to stay fewer days for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, compared to the affluent and general population (both three percent).
  • Seven percent of the young professionals are using rewards points, miles and special offers to off-set the cost, versus four percent of the affluent and three percent of the general population.

A Reason This Season

The American Express Spending & Saving Tracker indicates that consumers have not measurably changed their overall outlook on spending compared to last month but they are starting to open their wallets for the holiday season. Against the backdrop of high unemployment and a soft housing market, however, they expect to be more selective.

As one might expect, consumers said they plan to spend significantly more over the next 30 days on travel, compared to last month (41%  versus 33%).  Nearly eight in ten of the affluent expect to spend more, or about the same, over the next 30 days on dining out (78%).

Compared to last month, consumers expect to decrease spending in groceries (49% versus 40%), grooming (23% versus 16%) and tuition (19% versus 5%).

“These results show that consumers do plan to open their wallets this holiday season, starting with Thanksgiving travel, but many are re-prioritizing those expenses,” said Pamela Codispoti, American Express Senior Vice President and General Manager, Cardmember Services. “We expect a shift in what people are spending their money on, with our respondents showing that spending on dining and travel are very important to them during this holiday season.”

In the study, Aflluent is defined as having a minimum annual household income of $100,000.  The Young Professionals are less than 30 years of age, having a college degree, and a minimum annual household income of $50,000.

“American Express Spending & Saving Tracker,” conducted by the American Express Company, October 14, 2009.  Website: www.americanexpress.com.