Q and A: Gas-price forecast for holiday road tripsPlanning a road trip for the holidays? There's good news and bad news regarding gas prices and supply. Here's a look at what to expect:
By: Steven Cole Smith, The Orlando Sentinel (MCT)
ORLANDO, Fla. — Planning a road trip for the holidays? There's good news and bad news regarding gas prices and supply. Here's a look at what to expect:
QUESTION: Good news first, please?
ANSWER: Gas prices are stable, and there are no major factors in sight that would dramatically shift prices up or down before the end of the year. Once again, we dodged the hurricane season, and the BP spill doesn't seem to have had much of an effect.
Q: And the bad news?
A: Gas prices are up compared to last year. The national average is $2.89 a gallon, compared to $2.64 a year ago. Most of the increase is attributed to a slight rally in the U.S. economy that increased demand, to a small rise in crude oil prices, and increased global demand in emerging markets such as China.
Q: Is heating oil affecting gasoline prices?
A: "So far, not so much this year," said Jessica Brady, public relations manager for AAA South in Tampa, Fla. We are seeing, Brady said, a slight dip in oil reserves, and some of that is attributed to heating oil. But so far, a relatively mild weather up north hasn't upset prices. The federal U.S. Energy Information Administration in Washington, an information clearinghouse for the Department of Energy, projects average household expenditures for heating fuels will total $965 this winter, about the same as last year.
Q: Has this been a normal year in terms of gas prices?
A: Not at all, Brady said: "It has been a very atypical year." For instance, gas prices usually peak during the summer travel season. This year, they peaked in April. "There have been few predictable trends," she said.
Q: So will we see $3-a-gallon gas this holiday season?
A: According to the most recent forecast from the EIA, expect a national average for regular gasoline of $2.84 per gallon this winter, 19 cents per gallon higher than last winter. Diesel fuel prices are expected to average $3.09 per gallon this winter, an increase of 29 cents per gallon over last winter.
Q: What's the long-term forecast?
A: Here are the numbers from the EIA projections for 2011, and some historical perspective, to give you an idea of the trend: A gallon of regular gas averaged $3.26 in 2008, $2.35 in 2009, and EIA predicts an average of $2.77 for 2010. For 2011, the organization expects an average of $2.97 — still under $3 a gallon, but not by much. EIA forecaster Neil Gamson said the projected increase includes slightly higher crude oil prices, the potential for an uptick in the economy that could raise demand, and a more active "driving season."
WHERE TO FIND CHEAP GAS:
You probably know where to find the cheapest gas in your own neighborhood, but what about when you're 100, or 1,000, miles from home? Here's some help.
—GasBuddy.com has 204 separate sites that allow you to check gas prices by city, state or ZIP code in the U.S. and Canada. I punched in my ZIP code, which is in a very rural area, and got back three local stations with prices immediately on regular, midgrade, premium and diesel fuel. Click on the station you choose, and you'll get a map showing where it is. GasPriceWatch.com has similar information.
—Often the cheapest gas is offered at wholesale clubs like Sam's Club, B.J.'s and Costco. If you are a member, you can check out locations of stores along your route.
—Get away from the exit: Real estate is typically the highest at exits for expressways and toll roads on property the closest to the highway, so a station a mile down the road may be cheaper.
—Onboard systems: GPS and other navigation systems often have information on gas stations you can check on the road. I recently had a 2011 Ford Explorer equipped with Sirius satellite radio's premium travel data system — it has a link for gasoline price information. I typed in a zip code, and received information on 21 close-by stations, with prices. With real-time traffic information, the Sirius Traffic and Travel Link adds $5.99 a month to a Sirius subscription, but right now it is offered only on Ford products.