Personal Finance

3 tricks to save on the road over Independence Day weekend

Key Points
  • Nationwide, gas costs an average $2.28 per gallon, according to AAA.
  • AAA expects 37.5 million Americans will drive over the Independence Day holiday weekend.

A record number of Americans plan to travel over the Independence Day holiday weekend. With a little advance planning, it can be a cheap road trip.

An estimated 44.2 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home between Friday, June 30 and Tuesday, July 4, according to AAA. Most — 37.5 million — will be driving.

Their first stop: a gas station.

The Friday of Independence Day weekend is the biggest day for buying gas, with spending up 27 percent compared to the daily average in July, according to Bank of America. Average spending per fill up in 2016 was $28. (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
Save money when booking a vacation

Fuel prices have been declining over the past month due to seasonal trends and the falling price of crude, said Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst for Nationwide, the average price for a gallon of gas is $2.28, and drivers are likely to see gas prices decline further as the holiday approaches.

We definitely think the road will be crowded.
Tamra Johnson
AAA spokeswoman

"It's going to be a terrific July 4 — which is typically the busiest driving holiday," he said.

If you're planning to hit the road over the holiday 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, Tamra Johnson, a spokeswoman for AAA, told CNBC earlier this summer. Of course, avoiding traffic on a holiday weekend 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) Watch out for state lines

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 such as GasBuddy and AAA Mobile can help you find the best gas prices along your route.

"State lines are something to be very aware of," said DeHaan.

Gas taxes can vary substantially, and it might be better to top off the tank than wait until later in your trip. In Pennsylvania, for example, the federal and state gas taxes add up to 77.7 cents per gallon, while in Ohio they total 46.41 cents. The difference is maybe $5 per fill-up for someone driving a small car, and $35 or more for an RV, he said.

3) Fuel up your wallet

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

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.