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Precious fuels: How to save despite high summer travel costs

Every traveler should expect to pay more this summer. Whether you’re taking a traditional summer road trip, flying to Europe, or even just going on a group tour, rising fuel prices are putting the squeeze on all types of travel costs.

However, there are ways to cut back. Below are some savings strategies that may offer relief from those prevalent gas pains.

Road trips

Rising prices at the pump have gotten plenty of attention lately. With many regions showing gas costing $3 or more per gallon, taking a leisurely road trip—that once-carefree summer pastime—now requires a careful budget. Here are some possibilities for a more affordable road trip:

  • Carpool with friends and family. One car means less fuel, and one tank split multiple ways means less money for everyone to spend.
  • Check to see which car models have the best fuel efficiency. “You’ll want to avoid SUVs and minivans and go for mid-size cars, as generally they are more fuel efficient,” recommends Barbara Messing, vice president and consumer travel expert at Hotwire. Inquire at your rental car agency about hybrids, miles per gallon by model, and which of their cars tend to get the best mileage.
  • Be conscious of your driving habits and keep your car well-maintained. Studies show that cars with good tires, driven within the speed limit, and with little use of air conditioning tend to get better fuel efficiency than others.
  • Do some research before hitting the road. AAA enables you to estimate how much your trip will cost with its fuel cost calculator, and Gas Buddy allows you to find the cheapest gas prices by zip code.
  • Take public transportation. If you’re going to a city or region with extensive subway, bus, or rail lines, consider foregoing a rental car and use affordable mass transit.
  • Check rental car prices to refuel upon return versus the cost of refilling on your own. In some cases, you may be able to save by choosing the company refuel option. Just don’t return it empty, notes Messing. “You could pay up to $6 per gallon.”
  • Use common sense, and use your car sparingly. Get outside and enjoy the summer weather by bike, on foot, or on in-line skates. Think of your car as a luxury only to be used when absolutely needed.

Additionally, many lodging properties are offering fuel incentives when you book a stay this summer. has a new $30 gas rebate deal for bookings made by May 29 (travel is valid through early July). is listing B&Bs with free gas promotions (click on the drop-down menu and select “Free Gas Promotion,” then click “Go”). Specific regions are offering assistance, too: Costa Mesa, California, has a region-wide gas rebate when you stay at a participating hotel, as does Branson, Missouri.

Airfare and other price increases

It’s not just cars that are feeling the gas price gouge. Airlines have absorbed the fuel price increase by raising ticket costs, and even tour companies, such as the Boston Duck Tours, have recently raised ticket rates to offset their added costs. Regardless of your itinerary, plan to budget extra for these new fuel surcharges. And when you see a good deal for what you’re planning, nab it.

“Book a deal as soon as you see it [within] the price you want to pay,” says Messing. “People keep shopping and wait until the last minute [for a deal], but we don’t expect that to be the case this summer. If you can fly on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday, you’ll find that you’ll save money. Or, if you’re taking a weekend getaway from Friday to Sunday, check leaving Thursday night or coming back Monday morning. There will be more inventory available and you can save.”

Or, try to work around holidays. “Holiday weekends are popular and you’ll pay top dollar,” notes Messing. “We always recommend traveling the weekend before or after to save the most money.”

Another tactic is flying to areas where you won’t need a rental car—such as cities with good public transportation or accessible campsites. Messing suggests that taking a mini-break in your home city can be a great way cut back on fuel costs. “You can stay in very nice business-class hotels for a low price in major cities, as there are extra rooms from businessmen and women not traveling. In Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, you can get a four-star hotel from $100 per night. This holds true for most major cities except New York. Particularly for people in really hot cities, it’s a good way to cool down if you can’t get out of town.”

So wherever your summer travels may take you, consider budgeting a little extra this year. With careful planning, you’ll be able to take a trip that doesn’t squeeze either the gas tank or your wallet.

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