Gas prices are moving higher as a result of Hurricane Harvey, but experts say they don’t expect the hike is enough to make Labor Day travelers change their plans. If you’re traveling, you’ll need to get smart about cutting your bill.
On Friday, AAA put the average fuel price nationwide at $2.52 — topping what AAA said Thursday was the highest recorded price this year. Prices are up 17 cents (7.2 percent) from a week ago. Last month, the average was $2.32 per gallon nationwide.
“The hurricane hit the epicenter of this country’s refineries,” said Allison Mac, a petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com. “Because of that, basic economics 101, there’s a squeeze on supply.”
“We think the national average could continue to rise 5 to 15 cents per gallon over the next two weeks,” she said.
States in the south and southeast have seen bigger price jumps at the pump compared to other areas of the country, due to where supply is more curtailed from the refineries and pipelines shut down, said Jeanette Casselano, a spokeswoman for AAA.
Friday of Labor Day weekend is the biggest day for buying gas, with 21 percent more gas purchases compared to the daily average in September, according to Bank of America. Average spending per fill up was $27. (The bank looked at aggregated data from more than 40 million credit and debit card users over the 2016 holiday.)
If you’re traveling over Labor Day weekend, here’s how to maximize gas savings:
1) Avoid traffic
Waze posted on its Facebook page Thursday that over Labor Day, drivers could face up to 1.9 times the traffic of a typical day, based on data from 2016. Metros including Reno, Nevada; Saginaw, Michigan and Corbin, Kentucky are expected to see some of the highest traffic surges.
The more time you spend idling in traffic, the more fuel you’ll waste, Tamra Johnson, a spokeswoman for AAA, told CNBC earlier this summer. Of course, avoiding traffic is easier said than done.
“We definitely think the road will be crowded,” she said.
If you can, leave early (or late) to avoid peak traffic hours. On the road, use navigation tools and apps that can spot problems ahead and help you find alternate routes.
2) Map out your road trip
Gas prices tend to be higher at stations near highways, but you can still save even if you’re not willing to detour into a nearby town. Apps like GasBuddy and AAA Mobile can help you find the best gas prices along your route.
Pay particular attention to timing if your route takes you across state lines, Mac said. Gas taxes can vary substantially, and it might be better to top off the tank than wait until later in your trip. In North Carolina, for example, the total tax on gas is 53 cents per gallon, while in South Carolina it’s 37 cents.
“That’s a huge difference,” she said.
3) Fill up your wallet
Many stations vary pricing by how you pay, so it helps to have both cash and a rewards credit card in your wallet.
“Carrying cash is always very helpful, because more and more gas stations are offering that cash discount,” Mac told CNBC earlier this summer.
If you opt to pay via credit, check to see which of your cards offers the best return on gas purchases. Some of the most generous offer 5 percent back, according to WalletHub.com rankings.
There can also be opportunities to save by paying via app. Users of Cumberland Farms SmartPay save 10 cents per gallon at the chain’s stations, for example, while Exxon customers using its SpeedPass+ app can redeem Plenti reward points to cut the total price of their fill-up.