By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Even with fuel prices relatively low, some of the highest costs of RVing come in the form of fuel purchases — and RVers need every break they can get. Instead of focusing on the technical issues of fuel economy, let’s talk about how to actually save money at the fuel pump.
Much of how you save fuel dollars is on where you buy the fuel. Comparing fuel prices station by station makes sense, but who wants to drive all over a strange town comparing prices, then finding out the first station you saw had the best price? Internet fuel price comparison services make a big difference. gasbuddy.com uses volunteer price watchers to post updated prices on fuel. Log on using your personal computer, or if you’re portable equipped, there’s an ap for ipods.
Are you a warehouse club member? Sams? Costco? Warehouse club members often pay much less then area fuel stations on a gallon for gallon basis. The trouble is, many of the warehouse outfits only provide gasoline, not diesel. But warehouse retailers aren’t the only ones who give loyalty rewards: Grocery stores like Safeway, Kroger, PriceChopper and others have loyalty programs. Safeway gives its customers a three-cent per gallon discount without having to make any purchases. Other stores give discounts based on the amount of purchases made in the store over a given time frame. Here you’ve got to watch closely–are you paying more for groceries to get the discount, than the actual discount itself?
You’ll also find loyalty discount programs from RV clubs. Good Sam members get a card that offers cents off gasoline and diesel purchases at Flying J and Pilot fuel stops. Sometimes that’s a great deal–at other times you may find that you can by fuel at another station nearby at their “full” price and do better than you would with the discount at these stops. Another card Good Sam offers is a branded credit card — use it to make fuel purchases, save even more per gallon.
The payment medium used can also make a difference in fuel prices. Some oil companies offer a discount to customers using their “branded” credit card. In other cases credit cards may offer discounts on gas, regardless of where you purchase the fuel. Here again, watch closely. Will you have to pay an annual fee to the credit card company that may outweigh the actual savings? Watch the inserts from your credit card company, too. One of our credit card companies offered a $20 rebate if we purchased $100 worth of fuel from Shell stations over a three month period. We bought our $100 worth, and haven’t seen a Shell pump since that time–we could do better elsewhere.
We do have a different credit card that offers us two-cents cash back on every dollar we spend on fuel purchases. With no annual fee, it’s a great deal — provided we pay off the purchases at the end of the month, avoiding finance charges. When we have a BIG trip that we figure might be too tight to pay for, we forgo this card and the “cash back” option and put fuel purchases onto a lower interest rate card.
Finally, in some cases you may save money by paying cash over swiping a credit or debit card. If you’re fueling up a big rig and popping out three or four hundred dollars, consider the risks of losing the cash. And if you do pay cash, don’t wind up “blowing” your savings by picking up something you might not have otherwise bought if you’d stayed with your rig and paid at the pump.