May 23, 2024

The U.S. Issue: Practical Traveler: 13 Ways to Save on Gas this Summer

The price of gas on average in the United States was $3.96 earlier this month, up from $2.91 a gallon last summer, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report. And prices have been topping $4 at some service stations in California, Connecticut, Illinois and New York.

But don’t tell the kids it’s going to be another staycation summer just yet. While the price of gas in the United States is still more than a dollar higher than the same time last year, analysts say gas prices may have hit their peak and are expected to drop, offering drivers some relief. In the meantime, there are plenty of ways to keep your fuel bill in check, from choosing the right destination (see our 50 round-trip getaways you can take on one tank of gas at to downloading the right app. Below, 13 tips for cutting the cost of that summer road trip.

GET A GAS APP There are dozens of apps that help users find cheap gas while on the road., offers one of the more comprehensive for iPhone and Android users, with a clean design and estimated drive times to gas stations in your vicinity. Just tap “Find Gas Near Me” or search by city or ZIP code for a list of gas stations sorted by price. You can click Midgrade, Premium or Diesel for those prices. Selecting Map View displays the stations on a map. Another option is AAA’s free TripTik Mobile app for the iPhone, which allows users to search prices for their preferred grade of gasoline.

LET THE HOTEL COVER THE GAS To avoid a repeat of 2008, when the soaring price of gas made “staycation” a household term, destinations that rely primarily on drivers are rolling out gas-related incentives. San Luis Obispo, a coastal resort town halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, is promoting car-free vacations with 20 percent Amtrak discounts and hotel bargains of up to 30 percent off. And many hotel chains, from Sky Hotels Resorts in Orlando to Personality Hotels in San Francisco, are offering gas cards or rebates from $10 to $50, depending on the package and length of stay.

STAY OUT OF TRAFFIC Google Maps, which comes preinstalled on many smartphones or is available for download, offers an at-a-glance display of road conditions in major cities to help you find the best route around congestion so you don’t burn up extra fuel in stop-and-go traffic. Color-coded lines correspond to the intensity of traffic: green for no traffic jams, yellow for medium congestion, red for heavy congestion, and red-and-black for stop-and-go. Google Maps Navigation, offered through Google Maps for Android, has recently been updated to offer alternate routes to avoid tie-ups.

PAY LESS FOR YOUR RENTAL CAR A cheaper rental will help offset the cost of gas. Check out the booking site, which searches the Web for discount coupons on car rentals and applies them after you book. It then continually checks for lower rates and coupons up until your trip date, and automatically applies any discounts it finds. Willing to gamble? Consider Web sites like and, which offer deep discounts to travelers willing to be locked into a preset price before learning what company they’ll be renting from.

RESHUFFLE YOUR CREDIT CARDS Consider a credit card that offers cash back for gas purchases. Discover’s Open Road card, for example, offers 2 percent back on the first $250 in combined gas and restaurant purchases each billing period, and Capital One’s No Hassle Cash Rewards card offers 2 percent cash back on purchases at gas stations and major grocery stores.

LOSE THE GOLF CLUBS An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could reduce your mileage by up to 2 percent, according to an Energy Department and Environmental Protection Agency Web site, And keep luggage inside the vehicle rather than strapped to the roof, to reduce aerodynamic drag.

FILL IT UP WITH REGULAR Most vehicles that call for premium fuel (which was $4.23 on average earlier this month, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report, up from $3.20 a year ago) can run on regular just fine, according to, an online car shopping site. “Technically, this makes the car less efficient, but not to a degree that negates the cost savings from the cheaper fuel grade,” states the site under Tips for Saving Fuel. However, some cars do require premium fuel, so before you fill up, check your owner’s manual to find out if the higher-priced gas is required or just recommended.

USE THE RIGHT OIL You can boost your gas mileage by 1 or 2 percent by using the manufacturer’s recommended grade of motor oil, according to Look for oil that says “energy conserving” or “resource conserving” on the A.P.I. performance symbol to be sure it contains friction-reducing additives that form films to reduce the friction of moving engine parts and to help improve fuel economy.

SKIP THE TOLL-BOOTH LINE On road trips in the Northeast, a monthly E-ZPass subscription will keep you out of long lines, saving you idling time and gas. The electronic toll-collection system is offered on most toll roads, bridges and tunnels across 14 states from Maine to Virginia and west to Illinois. SunPass is the equivalent in Florida; FasTrak is in the San Francisco Bay Area.

CHECK YOUR TIRE PRESSURE You can improve your gas mileage by up to 3.3 percent by simply keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure, according to Underinflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.3 percent for every pound-per-square-inch drop in pressure of all four tires. (You can get a tire-pressure gauge at any hardware store or auto store for about $10.) Check your vehicle’s owner’s manual or the door jamb for the proper level of inflation (not the tire itself, which shows the maximum tire inflation pressure), and be sure to check the tire pressure when the tires are cold, as internal pressure increases when the car has been on the road for a while and the tires heat up.

SLOW DOWN Gas mileage typically decreases at speeds above 60 miles per hour, according to “You can assume that each 5 m.p.h. you drive over 60 m.p.h. is like paying an additional $0.24 per gallon for gas,” the site states.

TAKE THE BUS Cheap express buses with names like BoltBus, Megabus and Vamoose have become popular along the Northeast Corridor and elsewhere, with amenities like free Wi-Fi and power and seats for $30 or less, depending on when you reserve — which can be less than what you might pay in gas if you drive yourself. Search for seats at or at

USE PEDAL POWER You don’t need four wheels to get a taste of the open road. Two will do just fine. The nonprofit Adventure Cycling Association offers tools to help cyclists plan, including more than 40,000 miles of cycling routes throughout North America, with elevation profiles, turn-by-turn directions and symbols that mark bike shops, lodging and other services. Twenty-two long-distance routes, which are broken into shorter sections of about 350 miles long, are available for $14.75 each or $11.75 for those who pay a $40 membership fee.

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