Are we there yet?

Nov. 27, 2017

Many people will be hitting the US highways during the upcoming winter holiday travel season. The demand on gasoline typically rises the week of the Thanksgiving holiday and continues through the Christmas season. Motor gasoline pump prices gradually increase during this timeframe and then settle as the new year approaches once people have returned home from their holiday travels.

The American Automobile Association this year forecasts that 50.9 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more during this 4-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend. This is a 3.3% increase over a year ago. AAA expects about 1.6 million more people to be traveling by car, bus, plane, and railway than last year's travel volumes-the most since 2005. Nearly 89%, or 45.5 million travelers, will be on the nation's highways.

"A strong economy and labor market are generating rising incomes and higher consumer confidence, fueling a strong year for the travel industry, which will continue into the holiday season," said Bill Sutherland, a senior vice-president for AAA. According to AAA's daily Fuel Gauge Report, the current national average price for regular unleaded gasoline was $2.54/gal on Nov. 19, about 30¢ higher than a year ago. The rising prices are due to higher demand, the remnants of Hurricane Harvey, production cuts by members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, and conflict in the Middle East. Despite these higher prices since 2014, motorist won't be discouraged from taking a holiday trip.

More than price

While gasoline prices are a determining factor of where one might their vehicle, there are more things to consider than just the pump price. Market Force Information surveyed 11,000 consumers to rank gas stations, convenience stores, big-box stores, and grocery stores to find out the best fuel brand, their qualities, and features. MFI surveyed the consumers on the satisfaction of their most recent fueling experience. Fuel price was the top contender at 77% of where consumer chose to fill up, while other top factors included good lighting, fuel quality, form of payment options, and ease of getting in and out. Especially when traveling during the holiday season, location of the nearest gas station plays a key role when one's car warns of "low fuel." The survey recorded that 36% of the respondents viewed location of a gas station to be a deciding factor and an important facet of which brand of gasoline to buy.

Loyalty programs, fast payment authorizations, appearance and maintenance of site, brand reputation, and speed of filling gas tank all are equally important factors to consider as well.

Other features

The survey concluded that 71% of consumers bought gasoline at a gas station, where 29% were at big box stores, warehouse, or supermarket chains. While fueling up, 30% bought nonalcoholic beverages, snacks, and coffee; 20% bought a fresh food item; 14% visited the restrooms; 5% put air in the tires; and 3% purchased a carwash. Credit or debit card payment was used to purchase gasoline by 77% of the survey respondents, while 10% used cash.

In today's technologically advanced world, many people rely on mobile apps for their travel experience, choosing the best route as well as the best place for competitive gas prices. Thirteen percent of the survey respondents utilized a fuel-associated mobile app to find the cheapest gasoline or to locate the closest gas station. GasBuddy was the most popular app, followed by various retailer-branded apps.

MFI conducted this survey of 72% female and 27% male participants 18 and older, from four US census regions, earning more than $50,000/year.

During your next road trip, where will you stop to fill up your gas tank? Will it be for price, locale, store/restroom cleanliness, safety, or the best cup of coffee? I'll pick all of the above. But just one question: Are we there yet?