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The gift of lower fuel prices arrived in time for Southern California holiday travelers, a record number of which are expected over the next two weeks.
The Automobile Club of Southern California projects a 1.8-percent increase over 2011 in the number of Southern Californians traveling 50 miles or more this holiday season. That's nearly 7.3 million Southern California travelers through the end of 2012.
The travel season ramps up as gas prices dropped to their lowest levels for 2012, according to AAA. That doesn't mean fuel will be a bargain for the estimated 6.5 million Southern Californians who will travel by car this holiday season, just that fuel will be less expensive than three months ago during a price spike.
The state average for a gallon of regular fuel Thursday is at $3.53, $1.14 lower than the record price set Oct. 9. The region has seen 10 consecutive weeks of decreasing fuel prices.
"We have seen California wholesale gas prices jump up by nearly 20 cents in the last couple of days, but as of today there is still room in the margin between wholesale and retail for further price declines," said Auto Club spokesperson Jeffrey Spring.
In the Los Angeles-Long Beach area, a gallon of regular fuel was priced at $3.59 per gallon -- 23 cents lower than last month, but 4 cents higher than this time last year.
The five most-popular destinations for SoCal travelers:
1. Las Vegas
2. San Francisco
3. San Diego
4. Grand Canyon
5. Central Coast (Santa Barbara to Monterey)