April 17 (UPI) -- While relief may be on the horizon, gas prices in the United States are at the point where travelers may have to watch their wallets, market analysis finds.
Motor club AAA lists a national average retail price of $2.72 for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline. That's the highest level in nearly three years and prices could be moving even higher in the coming weeks. Jeanette Casselano, a spokeswoman for AAA, said prices could inch up another 10 cents per gallon, but stay below $3 per gallon nationally.
Looking ahead to the summer travel season, AAA expects 88 million people will hit the road.
"With more expensive gas prices on the horizon, travelers should plan now for the additional costs," she said in a statement.
The national average price on this date last year was $2.40 per gallon. A spike in crude oil prices, fueled by unrest in Syria, tighter oil markets and seasonal shifts at the nation's refineries are all adding up to higher prices at the pump. Nationally, the price for gas is up almost 10 percent from last month.
By region, the West Coast is the most expensive, with five states posting an average above the $3 per gallon mark. Gasoline inventories there dropped by more than a half million barrels and, while higher than this time last year, that decline was the third in as many weeks.
The Great Lakes states, meanwhile, are the most volatile in the country. Inventory levels declined by about 26,000 barrels last week, but that was the fifth week in a row for a drain on gasoline supplies in the region. Gasoline prices in Illinois jumped almost 3 percent, or around 10 cents per gallon, in a week.
A separate report from GasBuddy forecasts eventual relief coming at around mid-May as refineries wrap up their shift from winter to summer blends of gasoline.
"Refinery maintenance has gone well thus far, and gasoline supply has continued to push higher as more refiners conclude their work," GasBuddy analyst Patrick DeHaan said in a statement. "With the transition to summer gasoline also wrapping up, the reasons gas prices to rise will shrink."