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updated 5/10/2006 6:14:36 PM ET 2006-05-10T22:14:36

Nothing says summer like a road trip, but with gas prices hovering around $3 per gallon, travelers may reconsider their summer plans to hit the open road. Is it possible that flying to your destination could actually be cheaper than taking the car?

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Consider my plans to visit Washington D.C. -- from New York City, about 500 miles round-trip. I estimate I would have to fill my tank a minimum of three times at $40 per fill-up. That's $120 in gas, plus roughly $20 in tolls. I'll cross my fingers that I won't have to pay for parking.

A round-trip flight costs $149 on several carriers for a July weekend, before factoring the cost of transportation to and from the airport or airport parking. Driving, if you're concerned with costs alone and get great mpg, like I do, wins out. But when you factor in other variables like traffic, travel time, etc., the decision to drive to your destination isn't necessarily an easy one.

The fact is, there are several ways for me to get to Washington D.C. this summer that are far cheaper than driving or flying because it is a popular and oft-traveled route. If that isn't the case for your summer plans, it is still worth investigating the most affordable way to get to your destination. In other words: Don't assume driving will save you money.

Gas and money saving tips
The less gas you use, the less money you'll spend at the pump. But before you even get going, find out where the cheapest gas is near your house by visiting GasBuddy.com. Do a search by zip code and you'll see an updated list of gas prices at stations near you.

When you get on the road, use these five tactics to make your fuel go further:

  • Only use the grade of fuel you need. If your car does not require premium fuel, don't get it. Check your owner's manual before the next time you fill up. If your car only requires regular fuel, stick to that.

  • Use your cruise control -- especially on stretches of flat road. This will stop you from unconsciously speeding up and losing fuel.

  • Ease into a stop. Slamming on your brakes wastes gas. When you see that you need to slow down, ease off the gas and onto the brakes smoothly.

  • Use your air-conditioning. It is a popular myth that a car's air-conditioning wastes gas. However, having the windows open while driving on the highway will actually increase the drag on your car and force it to use more fuel to compensate.

  • Keep your tires inflated. Letting the air get low will force your car to work harder and use more gas.

Hotel deals
If your summer travel plans call for a hotel anyway, why not stay at one offering to offset the price of your gas? Several properties around the country are offering free fill-ups and gas rebates in an effort to lure road travelers. Consider these deals:

  • Millennium Maxwell House, Nashville:The Millennium Maxwell House is offering a "Family Fuel" package which includes: deluxe overnight accommodations, a gas credit up to $20 which the hotel will deduct from hotel bill (must be dated within 24 hours of check-in), complimentary breakfast buffet for two adults and up to two children, and a special $89 rate for a second room for families with more than two children. Complimentary breakfast is not included with the second room. Rates for the package begin at $129 per room, per night plus tax, valid through December 30, 2006. For reservations, call 1-866-866-8086.


  • Millennium Hotel, Minneapolis:The hotel is offering a "Hot Summer Special" package which includes overnight accommodations and a complimentary $10 gas card which can be used at any SuperAmerica station. The package is priced at $119 per room, per night, excluding tax and service charge. It's available Thursdays through Sundays, through July 4, 2006, subject to availability. This package is not available with any other offers. For reservations please call 800-522-8856 and mention promotional code: HOTSUM. To locate a SuperAmerica gas station, visit SuperAmerica Web site.


  • Wintergreen Resort, Virginia:Wintergreen Resort, a four-season mountain resort in Central Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, is offering the Get Away Soon (G.A.S.) special for summer travelers interested in saving some cash. Wintergreen is providing a free tank of gas (up to $75) to guests visiting on a three-night minimum stay booked through the resort. The G.A.S. special is scheduled to run through August 31. Guests taking advantage of the special must present a valid gasoline purchase receipt at the resort's front desk during their stay. The resort will credit the purchase amount (up to $75) to the guest's bill at checkout (one credit per reservation).


  • BnBFinder.com:This Web site that specializes in B&Bs has a page dedicated to properties offering gas promotions. At press time, B&Bs in Vermont, Maine, Pennsylvania, New York and several other states were offering gas rebates ranging from $7.50 to $50. The Web site also allows you to sign up for an RSS feed that will alert you when new gas promotions are posted.

The Independent Traveler is an interactive traveler's exchange and comprehensive online travel guide for a community of travelers who enjoy the fun of planning their own trips and the adventure of independent travel. You can access our wealth of travel resources and great bargains here at www.independenttraveler.com, or at www.bargainbox.com.

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