How to Save Money at the Gas Pump
Gas prices are up, but there are still ways to pay less
Fuel prices are higher than they have been in several years, but experts say there’s a chance they could drop slightly in the weeks to come. The national average price of regular unleaded gasoline rose more than a dollar per gallon to $3.42 since last year, according to AAA. Prices at the pump vary by region, trending higher in the West and Northeast, and lower in the Midwest and Southeast.
Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy, a website and smartphone app that helps drivers find the best deals, says that it’s unlikely that Americans will see prices approach the record highs they hit during the 2008 financial crisis in the months ahead. But they also aren’t likely to drop to the lows seen during the darkest days of the pandemic, when fewer people were driving and demand was low.
“There’s a good chance of a slight downward trend in prices over the next few weeks, although it could come up again around Christmas,” he says. “I don’t see prices rising much above the current national average.”
How to Spend Less on Gas
“If you’re just looking at the price from the street, you’re leaving money on the table,” DeHaan says. There are things you can do to keep your gas expenses down. Among them:
Use a gas station app or website. Smartphone apps, such as those from GasBuddy, AAA, and Gas Guru, are particularly convenient when you’re traveling and away from your computer. They’re available for Apple and Android devices. Many are free. You can filter results by fuel grade and sort by distance and price, as well as get GPS-guided directions to the station you choose.
GasBuddy and Fuel Finder also let you check stations for amenities such as ATMs, restaurants, and car washes. GasBuddy has station reviews, which might tell you, for instance, which restrooms to avoid. And Gas Guru lets you save your favorite stations, so you can remember where to stop on your way back.
The Google Maps and Waze apps, which many people use for real-time traffic alerts and driving directions, also offer gas-price info.
You’re likely to find that you may be able to get a better deal at stations that are not located on major highways, says Michael Calkins, a manager at AAA. Of course, making a big detour to pay less might not make sense.
Calkins also says to make sure that when you compare prices you consider buying only top-tier detergent gasoline, which is better for your car.
Check the prices in the different states you’ll visit. Prices can vary significantly among states, often because of differences in state gas taxes. On Interstate 90, for example, DeHaan found gas prices to be around significantly cheaper on the Ohio side of the border with Pennsylvania.
Think about how best to pay. Some stations offer a lower price if you pay with cash instead of a credit card. The difference between the cash and credit price usually ranges from around 10 to 15 cents per gallon, DeHaan says, though he adds that it can be as much as a dollar.
Another option is to pay with a cash-back credit card. While the credit card price may be higher than the cash price, the reward you receive could make using the credit card a better deal.
It’s worth noting that a rewards credit card could even provide greater savings than a gas credit card from a big oil company (such as Texaco or Chevron), DeHaan says. Some cards offer introductory cash or points bonuses for signing up, and others offer discounts at the pump. The Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards credit card, for example, offers a $200 bonus to people who spend $1,000 on purchases during the first nine days of card ownership. The ExxonMobile Smart Card, by contrast, gives a 6-cent discount per gallon of fuel purchased.
If you plan to pay by debit card, don’t assume that you are getting the cash price. Some stations could actually charge you the credit card rate instead. Check the posted prices at the pump. Selecting the debit option and entering a pin when you pump your gas is often a good indication that your transaction will be handled as cash, says Lyle Beckwith, senior vice president of the National Association of Convenience Stores, based in Alexandria, Va.