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More than 50% of Americans say high gas prices will keep them home for Thanksgiving

November 18 2021
6 min read
Gas pump
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There are several reasons why you’re likely feeling pain at the pump right now, from the price of crude oil to car rental shortages.

These factors are an annoyance and a drain on your wallet. They also, unfortunately, are going to continue to be an issue during what’s expected to be a busy Thanksgiving season. And there’s some early data showing that, despite certain pandemic restrictions being lifted, some travelers are opting to stay home for the holidays because of high prices.

Here’s what to expect if you plan to drive this Thanksgiving holiday.

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What’s going on with gas prices?

(Photo by Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

Gas prices are out of control, as you've probably noticed when filling up at the pump lately. According to figures from AAA, the average cost for a gallon of gas is currently $3.41 a gallon. And in states such as California and Hawaii gas prices can be well over $4 per gallon.

According to AAA public relations manager Andrew Gross, the high prices result from the cost of crude oil. Crude oil is currently hovering around $80 a barrel, a sharp jump from the low $60s we saw in August. The price of oil accounts for 50 to 60% of the pump price, he noted, and the higher the crude price, the more the consumer pays at the pump.

Even though it may not feel like it when you pull out your credit card to pay at the pump, prices are actually starting to decline. That’s right -- the nation’s average gas price has declined (even if your wallet doesn’t feel it yet), and is down 2.6 cents from a week ago, according to GasBuddy, a service that shows you where to find the cheapest gas near you.

The company compiled data covering more than 150,000 gas stations around the United States. Prices are expected to remain steady at least through Thanksgiving, which is a positive sign for people traveling for the upcoming holiday.

“While it’s not known how long market conditions will continue to push gas prices down,” Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy, said in a statement, “it appears that the fall should last through Thanksgiving, just in time for millions of Americans to prepare to hit the road for the holiday.”

But even that slight drop might not be enough to convince Americans to hit the road.

While U.S. airlines are reporting surges in bookings made abroad and are ramping up service, as my colleague TPG senior aviation reporter David Slotnick noted, the volatility in gas prices may be keeping cars parked this holiday season, regardless of whether prices continue to fall.

With nearly 60% of the U.S. population fully vaccinated against COVID-19, travelers are gearing up for the first semi-normal holiday season since 2019. That’s reflected in updated numbers from the Transportation Security Administration, which has screened over 2 million passengers on several days in November.

The holiday season also comes just weeks after the U.S. dropped travel restrictions for vaccinated international arrivals and as several states relax COVID-19 restrictions. But according to its 2021 Annual Thanksgiving Travel Survey, just 32% of Americans say they plan to travel for Thanksgiving this year. That’s a decline from 35% last year -- and an indication that it isn’t just the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic contributing to that decrease.

More than half said gas prices were the reason they planned to stay close to home.

“Similarly to last year, motorists are contending with a rise in [COVID-19] cases ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday when many drive to celebrate with friends and family. Only this year, we’re also just cents away from the highest Thanksgiving gas prices ever recorded,” said De Haan.

How to save on gas

(Photo by Marin Tomas/Getty Images)

Gas may be pricey right now, but there are several gas station rewards and loyalty programs (along with the occasional credit card statement credit) to help you save on gas. Here are several of our favorites:

  • Fuel Rewards: A third-party loyalty program specifically for Shell gas stations
  • Circle K Easy Pay: Save 30 cents per gallon for the first 100 gallons or 60 days, after which you’ll save 6 or 10 cents per gallon, depending on your location.
  • GetUpside: An app where you can claim offers in the app to save a certain number of cents per gallon.
  • Pay with GasBuddy: This program offers several levels of cash savings per fill-up.
  • Grocery store fuel points
  • Credit card offer: Rewards programs like Chase and American Express frequently offer cash-back options on gas purchases at stations like BP and Shell.

If you don’t want to sign up for yet another rewards program, there are other ways to be frugal at the pump.

Another way to save on gas, according to AAA’s Gross, involves some routine vehicle maintenance. One of the easiest ways to maximize fuel efficiency -- and save on gas -- is to make sure your tires are properly inflated. If you can’t remember the last time you put air in them, your tires might be low.

Of course, you can also sign up for a credit card that offers bonus points on gas station purchases. That way, even when gas prices are on the rise, you know you're getting rewarded for the expense.

Bottom line

It’s clear that it will be expensive to drive for the holidays, even if gas prices drop slightly or hold steady.

It’s also clear that high gas prices will discourage at least some travelers from hitting the highway this Thanksgiving.

If that’s you — or you’re on the fence about driving — keep a close eye on gas prices in your area, especially if you have flexibility in your plans. If you do plan to drive, using a gas station’s rewards program or app can, at the bare minimum, save you some cents.

Featured photo by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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