Rebecca Cook  /  Reuters file
Suzanne Smith fills up her Chevrolet Suburban at a gas station in Clinton Township, Michigan May 4, 2006. Smith waited in line for three hours in backed up traffic that stretched three miles to purchase gasoline during a morning special that discounted the price of regular gas from $2.85 a gallon to $2.35.
By Travel columnist
updated 5/12/2006 1:48:18 PM ET 2006-05-12T17:48:18

With gasoline prices soaring over the past few months, several destinations and travel organizations that depend on automobile travel to prosper have begun offering gasoline voucher programs to encourage visitors. Some of these initiatives are dusted-off versions of promotions from last year, when the travel industry was faced with a similar fuel scenario as the summer travel season loomed. Others are new.

The interesting thing is how infrequently programs like this are offered. It seems that most destination managers believe that the American public will keep on truckin’ despite higher fuel prices. And they’re probably right. If history is any guide, Americans can be expected to increase their travel, not curtail it. Go figure.

The same seems to be true in Europe. During a recent trip to Italy, where gasoline averages more than $6 a gallon, I was stuck in massive traffic jams on the superhighways connecting Rome, Florence and Bologna. Similarly, in England, so many drivers want to get into London that the city has implemented a special toll program.

It seems cars inspire free-spending devotion. Still, some destinations and organizations have created promotions offering gasoline rebates and vouchers to encourage travelers to pay them a visit. Each program has a different collection of requirements. If you follow the rules, the reward is free fuel and, in most cases, a bit more.

1. Branson, Missouri. Visitors presenting $40 worth of gas receipts dated within two days of arrival in Branson will be rewarded with a “Gas Buster” discount card. The card is worth $50 and is accepted at more than 50 Branson-area businesses. Just bring your gas receipts to the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce Welcome Center.

2. Aspen, Colorado. What could be better than free gas and free activities in this tony mountain town? Guests who book at least two nights at a participating property through Stay Aspen Snowmass will receive a voucher for up to $50 in free gas at The Aspen Store, two free passes for a scenic bus ride to the Maroon Bells (a $14 value), two free bicycle rentals for a day, free parking at your lodging property and a free pass to the Aspen Recreation Center.

3. Bedandbreakfast.com. This marketing organization has created a promotion that offers gasoline-based vouchers at 40 participating properties. For instance, the Inn at Harbor Hill Marina, in Niantic, Conn., near Mystic Seaport and Mystic Aquarium, offers a gas rebate of $25 for midweek visitors who stay two nights or more. The Inn at Starlight Lake in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains offers $25-$50 as a gas rebate for visitors saying two to four nights, excluding holidays. Other B&Bs from California to New Hampshire have similar gas promotions, generally good for about $25 worth of fuel.

4. South Dakota. In South Dakota’s “Twenty Bucks for the Road” program, the state will give a $20 coupon for ethanol to drivers arriving from the nearby states of Kansas, Illinois, Texas, Colorado, Missouri, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska. The coupons are redeemable only in South Dakota. The state is one of the largest producers of ethanol, so this promotion benefits both tourism and one of South Dakota’s biggest industries. The initial response to this promotion has been overwhelming; the state was expecting to distribute no more than 3,000 vouchers and more than 12,000 vouchers have already been requested.

5. Hotels.com. This giant hotel booking site has launched a program rewarding travelers who book two nights or more online from May 1 to May 29 for stays through July 10. Travelers will receive up to $30 back by mail-in rebate, and the rebate form is right on the Web site.

6. Wintergreen Resort, Virginia. This luxury resort nestled on the slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains is offering a “Fuel Friendly” escape that will reimburse up to $75 in gasoline charges when travelers stay at the resort for three nights. To receive reimbursement, you much present gas receipts for purchases of gasoline used to drive to the resort.

7. Whistler, Canada. Whistleraccommodation.com, an online booking agent for this sprawling mountain resort in British Columbia, is offering C$50 of free gas to anyone booking three to six nights by the end of August and arriving before October 31. For those staying seven nights or more, the gas rebate is doubled.

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8. Traverse City, Michigan. The Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau will give a $25 Speedway gas card to every visitor who calls to reserve a stay of four nights or longer at any of its 43 participating hotels, motels or resorts between now and Labor Day. The cards are redeemable for gas or other merchandise at Speedway service stations anywhere in the country. To qualify, travelers simply book their rooms through the Bureau’s toll-free “Pump Up Your Summer” reservations line, 1-800-714-0051. This gas card has the impact of reducing a $3-a-gallon gas price to $2 a gallon for a visitor who makes a 500-mile round trip to Traverse City in a car that averages 20 miles per gallon.

9. Mount Bachelor Village Resort, Bend, Oregon. For travelers staying at least two nights, this all-season resort set on the banks of the Deschutes River is offering a “Free Fuel for Guests” program consisting of a $50 gas card. The resort offers spa packages and plenty of outdoor activities as well as a series of summer concerts ranging from rock to country and western.

10. Virginia Beach, Virginia. Gold Key Resorts in this vacation region has announced a $20 gasoline voucher redeemable in downtown Virginia Beach for anyone booking a vacation with an arrival date before May 25. Gold Key has a collection of packages that qualify, ranging from $49 to $319 based on three days and two nights. For more information about this promotion, call 1-800-492-9861.

Travelers who can’t find free gas, or who aren’t interested in trading gas vouchers for hotel rooms, can always look for the best deal at the pump. Two Web sites will lead these travelers to the best places to spend the least for gasoline.

  • AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report lists average gasoline prices on a state-by-state basis. This site is perfect for a general idea of which states have the lowest prices.
  • Gasbuddy.com, a similar site, has reports from individuals across the United States and Canada. These reporters provide actual gas station prices together with names and locations of stations that have current gas deals.

More gas deals may pop up as the summer goes by, and they might not be widely advertised. So, tell your reservations agent that you are driving in from a distance, and ask if the hotel is offering any sort of gas promotion to make the trip worthwhile. The question is sometimes all that is needed to shake something loose.

Drive safe and enjoy the deal.

Charles Leocha is nationally-recognized expert on saving money and the publisher of Tripso. He is also the Boston-based author of "SkiSnowboard America & Canada." E-mail him or visit his Web site. Want to sound off about one of his columns? Try visiting Leocha's forum.

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