I don’t own a car, you see, and while my family and I frequently rent vehicles, we typically take half-tank day trips or otherwise get very lucky and find that one roadside station out of three with cheap gas. That day a few weeks ago, not only had our luck run out, but the gas station had also conveniently run out of regular unleaded fuel, so I took the path of least resistance and bought the super. For a rental. That just feels all kinds of wrong.
Perhaps my wake-up call came later than most, but while we’re all holding our breath waiting for fuel prices to drop, there are a few steps your family can take on your next road trip to save some money on gas.
Scout “summer” hotel deals that include gas cards: Just because school summer vacations and summer itself are crashing to a close (yes, fall will be here on September 23) that doesn’t mean that all those summer hotel deals that include gas cards have gone away.
Through September 5, Marriott is including a $25 gas card good at BP and Shell stations (promo code LPR) for stays booked in properties in ten U.S. cities. Should your family be motoring to the Motor City, through September 17 selected Red Roof Inns in Detroit are giving $10 in gas money per night to guests who upgrade their rooms by $10 each night. Look beyond the chains, too, for hotels as reluctant as we are for summer to end. For instance, the AAA Four-Diamond Jupiter Beach Resort & Spa, with rates from $149, is including a $25 gas card for stays through September 30, and of course keep your eyes open for other properties that may decide to extend their summer gas card deals through the end of 2011.
Rent a hybrid: A hybrid vehicle can get “anywhere from 48 to 60 miles per gallon [and] with the U.S. average for passenger cars at 22.4 MPG, that means that hybrid cars provide up to nearly 30 percent in fuel savings,” according to Travelocity, which has a handy hybrid car rental search tool on its site.
Get a gas debit card: On your next car trip, ask a kid in the backseat to call up that seldom-used calculator app on their phone and punch up 710773345. Then ask them to turn the calculator upside down and, of course, they’ll see it says “SHELL OIL.” Aside from the fact that I’ve been waiting nearly 25 years to get that gag into an article, it segues into the suggestion that you might want to get a Shell Saver Card, a debit card that draws funds from your checking account, all the while saving you two cents on every gallon of gas you buy at Shell pumps. There are no hidden fees and you can use the card for other purchases (though you’ll only get the discount on fuel).
Work your apps: The free Web-based gas price comparison tool at Gasbuddy.com, also a downloadable app for iPhones as well as Windows and Android smart phones, enables you to search pricing by zip code, city, and state. Another tool, at NerdWallet, allows you to search by zip and will indicate credit cards accepted at the gas station as well as the cash versus credit card pricing.
Another free app, Fill ‘er Up, is a handy budgeting tool that will figure out how much gas you’ll need for your trip as well as the cost per person once you enter your trip distance, fuel price, intended mileage, and number of passengers.
Make your kids pay their share: I was contemplating the aforementioned app that helps you figure out how much each passenger’s share of the gas cost around the same time I spotted an email from financial planner Julie Murphy Casserly of ChicagoHealers.com, who often speaks on the worthwhile subject of educating kids about finance. She notes that when your kids hit high school, it’s not a bad idea to “encourage them to get a part-time job to help pay for their car insurance, their gas or portions of the monthly car payment. Children should be held accountable for sharing some of these costs with their parents.”
I realize that Casserly’s advice goes more toward encouraging high schoolers to pull their weight financially once they start using the family car at home. But given the prices at the pump, I’ll just put it out there: How radical would it be to suggest to your wage-earning teen that a family road trip is no longer a totally free ride, and that their kicking in a few bucks for gas might be appreciated?
Use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates and travel deals on car rentals.