Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

Undoubtedly one of the big economic drivers for vacations in 2015 will be lower gasoline prices.

The collapse in prices since mid-fall has been swift, dramatic and without precedent in my memory. The national average price of $2.51 per gallon last week was down 36 cents a gallon from a month earlier.


The federal Energy Information Administration is projecting an average price in 2015 of $2.60 a gallon, which puts about $550 extra into every household budget to spend, save or pay down debt.

Cratering gas prices could not come at a better time for the cruise industry, which enters its annual Wave selling season next month. Consumers will be bombarded with special deals and advertising, including Carnival Corp.’s multibrand commercial during the Super Bowl.

To the extent that consumers spend their windfall on vacations, there is a worry for the cruise industry, however: Falling gas prices could inspire thoughts of a different vacation.

Specifically, the car trip. Piling the family into the van and heading for Mount Rushmore or Walt Disney World becomes a lot more appealing when the cost of filling the tank each time is $45 instead of $70.

That alternative probably won’t make much of a dent in business for the luxury or premium lines. But for the contemporary lines such as Carnival or Norwegian, whose passengers are often struggling middle-class families or multigenerational groups, the car trip is a real threat.

Of course one company, Disney, has its bets covered either way. But for the rest, it should be interesting to see whether all of that extra spending money ends up on land or at sea in 2015.

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