'Tis the season to hit the highways – or maybe not. The prospect might have you gulping a bit when you see the gas prices displayed around town. They're up about 50 percent from what they were at this time in 2020, averaging about $3.41 a gallon in November 2021. This is up almost 90 cents per gallon from what it was in February 2021.
You might be tempted to leave the car in the driveway, but some planning can potentially save your holiday travels.
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Why Are Gas Prices so High?
You can blame the economy, at least in part. The inflation rate hit a 31-year high in November 2021, spiking to 6.2 percent, its most significant increase since November 1990. Retailers tack on federal and state taxes and fees as well, passing them on to consumers. These averaged 52.23 cents per gallon in early 2021.
Supply and gasoline demand factor in as well. Americans are suffering shortages of many things in 2021 as a result of various factors, including the COVID pandemic.
Where Are Prices Highest?
Only 18.4 cents out of that 52.23-cent national average gas price is attributable to the federal gas excise tax. State excise taxes can vary.
California is often cited as the most expensive state for gas. A gallon of gas purchased at a Mobil station in Los Angeles cost drivers as much as $5.59 in November 2021. Oklahoma is one of the cheapest states. Phillips 66 was charging drivers $3.29 a gallon in Tulsa at the same time.
Costs can be further complicated because gas retailers are more or less free to charge whatever they like. You might find a 10-cent difference or more per gallon between a gas station on one side of town versus one on the other.
The Government Steps In
The situation is dire enough that it's caught the attention of the federal government. President Joe Biden announced in November 2021 that the government will release 50 million barrels of crude oil from the country's strategic petroleum reserve in an effort to bring gasoline prices down ahead of the December holidays.
President Biden also urged the Federal Trade Commission to look into the possibility that illegal conduct and price gouging are playing a part in the soaring price of gas. But the American Petroleum Institute is reportedly pushing back hard against FTC involvement.
Consider also: This Key Word Could Signal Price Gouging
Driving During the Holidays
What's a family to do as the winter holidays loom? You can choose where you purchase your fuel, assuming that you're not driving on fumes so you're forced to pull into the first gas station you see.
You've probably scoped out gas stations all over your hometown, so you know where gas is selling for less. But you're not defenseless if you're heading out on the road for the holidays. Numerous smartphone apps are available to guide you to the cheapest station in any area you're driving through or visiting, such as AAA, Gas Guru and GasBuddy. You can search by gas grade, location and pump prices, and most will give you GPS directions to get there. Some even let you know what amenities you'll find there, such as an ATM, convenience store or restaurant.
Consumer Reports indicates that gas stations on major highways tend to charge more than those off the beaten path, and many offer discounts if you pay with cash rather than by credit card. And many drivers fill up with pricy premium gasoline when, in fact, this isn't necessary for autos that are designed to run on regular unleaded fuel.
- Consumer Reports: How to Save Money at the Gas Pump
- U.S. Department of Energy: Gas Prices
- NPR: U.S. to Release Oil Reserves as the Holiday Travel Season Gears Up
- CBS News: President Biden Calls on the Federal Trade Commission to Look into Whether “Illegal Conduct” Is Pushing Gas Prices Up
- National Association of Convenience Stores: Why Gas Prices Vary Station to Station
- Wisconsin Public Radio: Analyst: Gas Prices Likely to Remain High for Next Several Months
- NPR: Inflation Surges to Its Highest Since 1990