This year’s summer road trip is going to be costly — gas prices are up nearly 50% over last year, the national average is more than $4 per gallon and prices are passing the $5 mark in some areas — but demand to fuel up and hit the open road is holding strong.
As of April 5, the national average gas price is $4.176 per gallon, up from an average of $2.873 per gallon last year, according to AAA data. Local prices, however, can vary widely depending on the station and the timing.
A rise in gas prices in the summer months is typical, but experts point to a number of possible causes this year as the U.S. experiences high inflation and global oil supply is affected by the Russian war in Ukraine.
“It is very significant in not only how high prices have gone but how quickly they’ve gone up,” says Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy. “Part of the reason prices have gone up is the seasonal transition to summer gasoline, but primarily it’s been caused by the Russia situation.”
Though the national average broke records in recent weeks, hitting a record-high of $4.331 on March 11, the demand for summer travel remains strong, experts say, as cities, planes and businesses do away with mask mandates and as COVID-19 cases continue to fall.
“Right now there are several factors at play including the war in Ukraine, COVID and demand,” says Ellen Edmonds, public relations manager at AAA. “Typically when the weather gets warmer and the days longer, demand usually goes up. COVID is putting downward pressure on oil over fears of a global economic slowdown.”
[Read: 5 Ways to Save for Vacation]
Higher prices at the pump this year over last year are inevitable, but consumers can still end up overpaying for gas without some planning. Here are a few ways to cut gas costs:
— Shop around and use a gas app.
— Pay attention to state lines.
— Practice efficiency strategies.
— Stick to a budget.
Shop Around and Use a Gas App
Don’t pull into the first station you see. Quickly checking a gas app to compare prices in the area and driving a few minutes away from a more crowded area can end up saving $5 or $10 at each fill-up.
Some of the apps available include GasBuddy, Gas Guru and the AAA TripTik Travel Planner.
Pay Attention to State Lines
California, Pennsylvania and Illinois are examples of states where gas can be notoriously expensive. Fueling before crossing into a high-cost or high-tax state can be worth the savings.
“Shopping around can save you 25 to 50 cents, up to a dollar a gallon by crossing from California to Arizona,” De Haan says. “Shop around no matter where you are, but especially if you are crossing state lines.”
On the other side of the coin, states like Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma tend to have the lowest state average gas prices. On April 5, the average gas price in Missouri was $3.729 per gallon, the lowest in the nation, compared with the average price in California, which was $5.838 per gallon, the highest in the nation.
Practice Efficiency Strategies
Small efficiency habits can reduce costs and diminish the environmental effects of fossil fuels. These might include turning the air conditioning down or off when not needed, combining errands and removing bulky items such as a car top carrier when not in use.
“Plan ahead,” Edmonds says. “Map your route before you go to minimize unnecessary turnarounds and backtracking.”
Edmonds also suggests avoiding excessive idling.
“A car engine consumes one quarter to one-half gallon of fuel per hour when idling, but a warm engine only takes around 10 seconds worth of fuel to restart,” she says. “Where safe to do so, shut off your engine if you will be stopped for more than a minute.”
Consumers can also consider using their most fuel-efficient vehicle when they have the option to do so, investing in a hybrid or electric vehicle, or taking public transportation when possible.
Stick to a Budget
Avoid overspending by planning for high gas prices with a summer travel budget.
“Your budget is a living tool that can and should change due to a variety of financial priorities,” Anne Marie Ferdinando, member outreach manager at Navy Federal Credit Union, wrote in an email. “Always do your research to find the best deals on travel, accommodations, or excursions.”
Build in some flexibility to your budget to accommodate this year’s particularly volatile gas prices, and plan well in advance for your summer travel.
“It seems so simple,” Ferdinando says, “but start saving money now.”
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Update 04/05/22: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.