gas prices

Good – and bad – news for summer road trips

(This is a slightly different version of a story we wrote for NBC News)

American travelers are expected to hit the open road by the tens of millions this summer.

But this is some news they could probably do without: gas prices, when adjusted for inflation, are expected to average $3.84 a gallon for regular this summer, the highest level since 2014.

That’s according to estimates released Tuesday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, an independent research organization. 

Prices like that, combined with the highest level of inflation in more than 40 years, will keep some travelers off the road and cause others to rethink their plans. But a survey done by AAA in early March, when average gas prices reached record highs, found that of the 52 percent of Americans planning to take a vacation this summer, 42 percent said they would not consider changing their travel plans regardless of the price of gas.

Juliette Coulter would have liked to be in that 42 percent. She hasn’t seen her parents, who are in their 80s, or her extended family for more than three years. There will be a big family reunion in July in Lake Tahoe, California. Coulter is not going to miss it, but some of her plans have changed. 

“We talked about driving to the reunion from here in Dallas and stopping along the way at the Grand Canyon. But then gas prices just started going higher,” she said. “With the gas, the hotels, and the meals there and back, we figured out it would be less expensive overall for our family of five to fly.” 

Airfares on her route have gone up, too. But she was able to use frequent flyer points for some of the tickets. And she bought the rest. 

“I guess the Grand Canyon will have to wait,” she said.

Some things can’t wait. Charles Jaferian will be a high school senior in the fall, and he has decisions to make about college. He and his father, Warren Jaferian, a dean at Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts, had plans to visit 19 schools over spring break and the summer. Now they will be making some of those visits online, and some without Charles Jaferian’s mother, due to the rising cost of travel. 

After driving 800 miles to see eight schools in Pennsylvania during spring break, “it became apparent that we needed to curtail our travels and rethink our travel plans accordingly, given high gas prices, distances between prospective universities, and higher prices for all associated hotel, dining, and other costs,” Warren Jaferian said. “A virtual visit is good, but it’s just not the same as seeing a campus in person and being able to ‘see’ yourself there.” 

Relief from high gas prices

Cities and states would like travelers to be able to “see themselves” in their towns, too. Many have instituted or are considering gas tax holidays to keep drivers coming.

Lawmakers in more than 20 states have introduced legislation that would put a pause on gas taxes or temporarily reduce tax rates, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

Drivers could save an average of $4 every time they fill their gas tanks as a result of the pauses, an NBC News analysis showed.

That could pay off for someone like Gary Whitehead, who spends a lot of time at the gas station. Since 2020, Whitehead has been traveling the country in a Toyota Tundra with an 18-foot trailer hitched to the back. Without the trailer, the Tundra gets 15 miles to the gallon; with the trailer, it gets less than 9 mpg. 

Whitehead is about to head up the California coast to the Pacific Northwest. 

“I’m spending more time planning and using various applications to find gas, camping spots, and more direct routes,” he said in an email sent during a stop at a campsite with limited cell phone service. “I just checked gas prices in Santa Maria, and they are $5.70 a gallon there now. Blah!”

To encourage travelers to get in their cars, this summer some hotels are rolling out packages that include gas rebate cards and other road trip-friendly incentives.

For example, the Drake Oak Brook, near Chicago just launched an “Are We There Yet?” package that includes a $75 gas card, a car freshener, a road trip kit with card games, a travel pillow, and other goodies, plus a to-go meal for two and pre-departure coffee drink. (Prices start at $395). Guests who show their gas receipt when checking in at the Georgian Lakeside Resort in Lake George, NY get $20 off each night of a minimum 3-night stay. And Sentral, which offers short- or long-term apartment stays in Austin, Miami, Chicago, and Denver has a Summer Road Trip offer that includes a daily $15 gas credit on a minimum 4-night stay.

Of course, there are ways to eliminate the sting of high gas prices. Drive something that doesn’t take gas.

Some rental car companies have hybrids and electric vehicles in their fleets. But they’re tough to get ahold of, “and they’re renting at a premium of well over $100 or $120 a day when a normal vehicle is $40 or $60 a day,” said Tyson Jominy, vice president of data and analytics at J.D. Power. “The average American pays about $50 more a month every time gas goes up by $1 per gallon. As painful as that is, you’d have to drive a lot each day to make (renting) economically feasible.” 

Dealing with high-flying fuel prices

[This article – Gas prices could hamper spring, summer travel plans – appeared earlier this week on]

Will rising gas prices detour any of  your spring and summer travel plans?

In some cities, such as San Francisco, a gallon of gas is hovering around $4. Nationally, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline reached $3.51 last week, up 13 percent in a month.

“It’s not like other commodities such as milk, bread or eggs,” said AAA spokesperson Troy Green. “As you drive around, you see those gas prices large and in your face at intersections every day.”

Airlines are facing fuel challenges again as well. United Continental Holdings, the world’s largest airline, on Tuesday said rising fuel costs will force it to drop some unprofitable routes and nix plans to add new ones.

That comes on top of a succession of industrywide increases in airplane ticket prices. “A traveler who paid $240 for a round-trip on the first day of the year is now paying closer to $300 — a 25 percent increase,” said Rick Seaney of

Seaney has already counted six successful domestic 2011 airfare hikes. “That is a carbon copy of 2008 to date, where we ended up with 15 hikes for the year as oil hit stratospheric highs in the summer of $145 a barrel and just as quickly crashed to $32 a barrel at Christmas.”

Rolling revisions

AAA hasn’t yet surveyed drivers about Memorial Day driving plans, but travelers respond to rising gas prices in somewhat predictable ways. “The rise in fuel costs may cause some people to alter or cancel travel plans altogether,” said Green. Others who have already made their plans are still likely to travel. “What they may do to compensate for increased fuel costs is stay in more economical hotels, dine at more economical or cheaper restaurants and spend less on gifts and other incidentals,” he added.

“All travel destinations pay close attention to gas prices,” said Carl Whitehill of the Convention and Visitors Bureau in Gettysburg, Pa., one of many towns getting ready to mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. “We know fuel prices will affect travel decisions. While we still think millions of people will come to Gettysburg, they may not buy as many souvenirs or go to as many attractions as they’d hoped.”

Whitehill believes those millions of visitors will still eat in restaurants and stay in hotels. But Marti Mayne, spokesperson for the Professional Association of Innkeepers International, said country inn and B&B owners are concerned about the effect gas prices will have on guests’ travel plans and how those higher prices will affect food and energy costs at the inns.

“The B&B industry held its own during the 2008-09 gas crisis, as people stayed closer to home and ‘staycations’ became popular,” said Mayne. “The B&B industry expects this will be the trend again as most inns and B&Bs are located within a one-tank drive of a major metropolitan area.”

Still, she said some B&Bs are already rolling out offers that include complimentary gas gift cards and finishing touches are being put on a new B&B campaign that is sure to include more such offers.

For some travelers, a complimentary $20 gas card with a two-night stay won’t be a strong incentive to travel. But AAA’s Green said, “Others may look at this as a great idea and want to take advantage of it.”

And, free gas card or not, Green said that when fuel prices are up, drivers can stretch their travel dollars by remembering to properly inflate their tires, driving the speed limit, avoiding quick starts and stops and taking out any unnecessary weight in the trunk. “If you’re not going golfing, you don’t need to be driving around with those golf clubs,” said Green.

“We also suggest people shop for gas with their steering wheel,” he added. “Don’t drive 30 miles out of your way to buy cheaper gas. But you may be able to save three to five cents a gallon by driving a few extra blocks” or by consulting a website or smartphone app that tracks area gas prices.

Fly away — for more
Those planning spring or summer vacations abroad should be ready for sticker shock.

“If you’re planning on heading to Europe, know this: Fuel surcharges are over $400 round trip now with average taxes around $120,” said’s Seaney. “This means before any fare is charged, you’re looking at $520 round trip, the highest we have tracked in 8 years.

“If you are shopping for early spring travel, it would behoove you to lock in now,” Seaney added.

Seaney’s tips for finding the best deal include shopping on Tuesday afternoons, when “the maximum cheap seats hit the reservation systems at 3 p.m.,” and flying on the least expensive days, which tend to be Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. He also suggests shopping for one ticket at a time, even if there are two or more people traveling together. “Airline reservations systems must have everyone in the party at the same price, even if there are a few cheaper seats.”

The bottom line? If you want to go somewhere, don’t wait: “Procrastination is not your friend when planes are full,” said Seaney. “Airlines have no reason to discount at the last minute.”