Labor Day weekend typically presents the perfect opportunity to head out on a road trip as we bid farewell to summer. But because the cost of gas might be one of your biggest travel expenses over the holiday weekend, it’s a good idea to have a plan for saving money at the pump.
In early September 2016, gas prices dropped to a national average of $2.20 per gallon, and prices even fell to below the $2-per-gallon mark in some states, according to AAA. As of August 2017, the national average is $2.34 per gallon for regular unleaded gas, according to GasBuddy, which lets you search gas prices in your area.
From using gas coupons to price-checking apps, here are some tips and tricks to help you save money on gas this Labor Day.
Buy Discounted Gas Gift Cards
If you plan on experiencing any of America's best road trips, grab a discounted gas gift card before you hit the road. You could end up saving up to 8 percent on the cost of gas purchases when you pay with a discounted gas gift card. If gas prices drop over Labor Day weekend — like they did last year — that could mean even bigger savings on travel expenses.
Sites such as Gift Card Granny list the latest discounted gas gift cards from popular fill-up destinations, including Shell, Exxon, Chevron, QuikTrip and Speedway. With this strategy, you purchase gas gift cards at a lower price than the value of the card — somebody has already paid the full value of the card and is ready to sell it at a discounted price to recover some of that investment. Some sites also include a risk-free, money-back guarantee so you'll have protection against buying a stolen card or a card with no balance.
Use a Bank Rewards Credit Card
A rewards credit card is another tool you can use to save money on your Labor Day road trip.
Jason Gaughan, a credit card product executive at Bank of America, shared Bank of America customer data from 2016. Spending at gas stations the Friday before Labor Day was 21 percent higher than the daily average in August. That means more people were gassing up for the long weekend.
However, not all those travelers might have taken advantage of cash-back rewards. Gaughan said using the Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card to fill the tank means consumers can earn 3 percent cash back on all gas purchases. When you’re fueling up multiple times during your Labor Day getaway, that cash-back bonus can add up.
Take Advantage of Gas Station Rewards Credit Cards
If you tend to fill up at a particular gas station time and time again, earn rewards for both gas and other purchases by applying for a gas station reward credit card.
For example, Shell offers the Fuel Rewards MasterCard, where you earn at least 5 cents per gallon for every $100 in purchases. You’ll also earn 20 cents per gallon when you shop at participating grocery stores and 5 cents per gallon at other grocery stores, restaurants, travel and for home improvement purchases. A ScoreCard Rewards card will earn you 50 cents off per gallon every time you use it at participating BP stations.
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Search for Gas Coupons
You might be able to get a discount on gas fill-ups by snagging a coupon from your local grocery store or other retailers offering incentives to shop at their location. Grocery stores such as Publix frequently post coupons for $10 off the purchase of a gas card with a grocery purchase of $50 or more. You’ll find these gas coupons in weekly ads and flyers, as well as online.
Some gas stations also post gas coupons online. The Holiday convenience store sends exclusive offers via email and posts online gas coupons you can print to save 5 cents per gallon of gas.
Fill Up at Warehouse Clubs
If you have a Costco or Sam's Club membership, filling up the tank could end up costing you less with discounted membership pricing. Costco stands behind the high quality of its Kirkland Signature™ Fuel, stating that the formula helps keep your car's engine clean so it runs as efficiently as possible. If you’re driving an older vehicle and concerned about fuel quality, you might end up saving money on car maintenance costs when you get back home.
Double up on the discounts by using a warehouse club rewards cash-back rewards card. With the Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi, you'll earn 4 percent cash back on eligible gas for the first $7,000 of fuel the first year and then 1 percent cash back every year after that. You’ll also earn cash-back rewards on other purchases — including restaurants, travel and Costco purchases — by using this card.
Stock Up on Groceries
“Many grocery and other chains, for example, have rewards programs for shopping in their store that pay out in reduced gasoline costs per gallon,” said Phong Ly, CEO of iSeeCars.com, a site that allows you to search new and used cars for sale.
Kroger stores, for example, offer shoppers who present their store loyalty card at the register a chance to earn gas points. Shoppers earn one point for every dollar they spend, plus double the points on gift cards, no-contract wireless phones and the airtime cards for them. The fuel points earned are redeemed for a discount on gas at participating gas stations.
Do a Maintenance Checkup
By visiting the dealer or mechanic for a quick checkup before you hit the road, you might be able to lower your gas expenses for the Labor Day weekend and beyond. Or, you can do some of the maintenance yourself to save money.
The U.S. Department of Energy reports that having the engine tuned up or fixing things such as a faulty oxygen sensor could improve your mileage significantly. In addition, "it's a good idea to check your tire pressure when you fill up because it can affect fuel economy,” said Ly. “Just 3 pounds of under inflation total from all tires can mean a 1 mpg drop in gas mileage.”
Watch Your Speed
You might be able to get away with going 10 or even 15 miles over the speed limit on those long stretches of driving on the highway, but a speeding ticket isn’t the only thing you need to worry about. The U.S. Department of Energy states your gas mileage rapidly decreases when you hit the 50 mph mark. Every 5 miles over 50 mph is going to cost you approximately 17 cents per gallon for gas. Your lead foot could cost you up to 14 percent more for a gallon of gas.
Research National Gas Prices and Averages
When you’re in the planning stages of the trip and putting together a forecast of expenses, make sure you’re working with accurate numbers for fuel costs.
Use tools such as the GasBuddy USA National Gas Price Heat Map to see where gas prices are heating up in real time. Whether you’re making a cross-country expedition or road tripping near your home state, you can see the variances in prices at a glance and get an average per-gallon figure to plot your budget.
Use a Gas App With Geolocation Features
If you really want to get the best price in town on those gas purchases this Labor Day weekend, use an app that provides maps of actual gas stations near you with the best price.
For example, Gas Guru is a top-rated app that helps you compare gas prices near you, no matter where you are. You can get detailed information, including the prices of all grades of fuel and the time gas prices were updated, to secure your best savings on the road.