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3 tricks to save on the road over Memorial Day weekend

Key Points
  • Nationwide, gas costs an average $2.38 per gallon, according to GasBuddy.
  • Consumers make 23 percent more gas purchases on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend compared to other days in May.

Travelers have more opportunity to save on gas this weekend, with a little on-the-road planning.

More than 39.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home over Memorial Day weekend, according to AAA. Most — 88.1 percent — will be driving.

Their first stop: The gas station.

Friday of Memorial Day weekend is the biggest day for buying gas, with 23 percent more purchases than the daily average in May, according to Bank of America. Average spending per fill up was $27.81, more than any other day in May. (The bank looked at aggregated data from more than 40 million credit and debit card users over the 2016 holiday.)

Save money when booking a vacation

Prices this year offer good and bad news for weekend road-trippers, said Allison Mac, a spokeswoman for GasBuddy. The national average, at $2.38 per gallon, is the second-cheapest the site has seen in the past 10 years. (See infographic below.)

But site data have shown that lower prices often result in a wider spread — the difference between the cheapest and most expensive gas in a given city. In Los Angeles, for example, the spread is currently more than $1 per gallon, she said.

"That tells me there's more opportunity to save … or to get ripped off," Mac said.

If you're hitting the road this weekend, here's how to maximize savings:

1) Avoid idling in traffic

The more time you spend idling in traffic, the more fuel you'll waste, said Tamra Johnson, a spokeswoman for the AAA. Of course, avoiding traffic is easier said than done.

"We definitely think the road will be crowded," she said.

If you can, leave early (or late) to avoid peak traffic hours. On the road, use navigation tools and apps like Waze that can spot problems ahead and help you find alternate routes.

2) Crossing the wrong state line can cost you

Prices tend to be higher at stations near highways, but you can still save even if you're not willing to detour into a nearby town. Apps like GasBuddy and AAA Mobile can help you find the best gas prices along your route.

Thomas Barwick | Getty Images

Pay particular attention to timing if your route takes you across state lines, Mac said. Gas taxes can vary substantially, and it might be better to top off the tank than wait until later in your trip. In North Carolina, for example, the gas tax is 53 cents per gallon, while in South Carolina it's 35 cents.

"That's a huge difference," she said.

3) Look for cash discounts

Many stations vary pricing by how you pay, so it helps to have both cash and a rewards credit card in your wallet.

"Carrying cash is always very helpful, because more and more gas stations are offering that cash discount," Mac said.

If you opt to pay via credit, check to see which of your cards offers the best return on purchases. Some of the most generous offer 5 percent back, according to rankings.

There can also be opportunities to save by paying via app. Users of Cumberland Farms SmartPay save 10 cents per gallon at the chain's stations, for example, while Exxon customers using its SpeedPass+ app can redeem Plenti reward points to cut the total price of their fill-up.

Memorial Day gas