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Hitting the road for Independence Day? 3 tricks to save on gas

Key Points
  • Nationwide, gas costs an average $2.24 per gallon, according to AAA.
  • AAA expects 37.5 million Americans will drive over the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

If you're hitting the road this weekend, be forewarned: You'll have plenty of company.

A record number of Americans plan to travel over the Independence Day holiday. (The good news? Drivers will see some of the cheapest gas prices in years.)

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

Their first stop: a gas station.

Fridays of Independence Day weekend are the biggest day for buying gas, with spending up 27 percent from 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.)

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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 $2.24, down from $2.28 last week.

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, AAA spokeswoman Tamra Johnson told CNBC earlier this summer. Of course, avoiding traffic on a holiday weekend is easier said than done.

"We definitely think the roads 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. (Waze told that the worst time to travel this weekend will be on Friday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.)

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.

Gas taxes can vary substantially by state. 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, DeHaan said.

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

3) Fuel up your wallet

Many stations vary pricing by how you pay, so it helps to have 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.