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Don't let gas prices affect your summer plans

Gas prices have steadily been heading north, and in many spots are at or above $4 a gallon. If you don’t want to stay home all summer, there are ways to ease the pain at the pump.
Image: Summer road trip
So, you want to hit the road this summer, but you're afraid filling up your vehicle will be too much of a strain on your wallet? Worry not, traveler. Companies around the nation are helping ease your pain at the pump.David McNew / Getty Images file

Gas prices continued their upward climb over the Memorial Day weekend, jumping more than 10 cents per gallon in many states. And now that the per-gallon rate has reached and, in many places, topped $4, some travelers are reconsidering and even canceling long-planned summer trips.

If you don’t want to stay home, there are ways to ease the pain at the pump. Especially if you poke around for special “gas relief” offers and brush up on your gas-pump protocol.

Incentives and cash rebates
Historically, when gas prices hit a new milestone, travelers get nervous and the travel industry gets creative. It’s the same story this time around, but now it’s not just hotels and car rental agencies offering great deals. Grocery stores and even carmakers are offering up gas-related incentives.

My advice: Take advantage of those offers, but be sure to read the small print and compare newly minted offers with ongoing and seasonal discounts that can end up being better deals.

Hotels and B&Bs
In many cities and states you’ll find an ever growing list of gas rebate and discount programs being tracked on tourism bureau Web sites. Some examples include the lists being compiled by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, the Gas Buster promotion in Branson, Missouri, the “Pain in the Gas” program in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley and Virginia's “Park the Car Getaways” program.

Plenty of individual and chain hotels are also rolling out deals. A dozen Best Western hotels around North America are offering “Gas Deal Promotions” with everything from gas cards and cash reimbursements to tokens for a free car wash. Across Canada, more than two dozen Marriott hotels are offering a “Cars Eat Free” promotion that includes a gas card and free parking.

There are also deals for those who would rather stay in quaint B&B properties. Several dozen sites listed on the Web site are participating in a “Tanks a Lot” program. Offers include room discounts, gas refunds, and parking reimbursements. And here’s a twist: in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Model T Ford, the Tin Lizzie Inn in Fish Camp, Ca. will not only rent you a Model T, but fill it with gas at 1908 prices: $.20 a gallon. For more information, visit

Car rentals
Planning on flying somewhere and renting a car? Are you determined to leave your gas guzzler at home? Through the end of June, AAA auto club members get a free tank of gas when renting from Hertz. Even folks who rent gas-guzzling RVs can get a break on gas this summer.  Allstar Luxury Coaches has a Gas N' Wheels Special offering a fuel rebate of between $300 and $500 to renters who book RVs by June 15th.

Car dealerships
What if you don’t own even own a car to take on vacation? Carmakers don’t want that to deter you: through July 7th, Chrysler’s “Let’s Refuel America.” Program is offering new car buyers a gas-specific charge card that locks in discounted gas prices — as low as $2.99 a gallon — for three years. Suzuki’s gas promotion gives new car buyers several months of free gas.

Grocery stores
Grocery stores are also getting on board with gas discounts. For every $100 spent in a Kroger-owned store, customers can get a 10-cent-per-gallon discount on gas and shoppers who use a Kroger-branded credit card can get a 15-cent-per-gallon discount.  (Kroger stores include Baker's, City Market, Dillons, Food 4 Less, Fred Meyer, Fry's, Gerbes, Hilander, Jay C, King Soopers, Owen's, QFC, Ralphs, Scott's, and Smith's stores, but not all of these stores may be participating.)

Safeway shoppers can get gas discounts of up to 10 cents per gallon at Safeway gas stations whenever they spend $50 and scan in their Safeway club cards.

Friends and family
OK, they may not be posting “special offers” on their Web sites or including coupons on their blogs, but that doesn’t mean friends and family members aren’t willing to chip in a few bucks to help fill your tank. Unless they’ve been living under a rock, everyone knows gas prices have gone through the roof. So if you’re the one who always ends up driving, don’t be shy about asking your passengers to throw in a few bucks when you (conveniently) pull into the gas station to fill your tank. And stop handing back the crumpled $5 and $10 bills offered up from passengers in the back seat. Gas prices aren’t likely to be going down anytime soon, so make it easy for folks to help out.

And you — there in the back seat. Yes, you! If you regularly, or even just occasionally, catch rides with friends, make it a habit to sincerely volunteer some cash to help fill the tank. And make sure you have $10 and $20 bills on hand to make good on those offers. If handing over cash feels awkward, buy a few gas gift cards (available at grocery stores, convenience stores and online) that can be used when you’re in the car or given to a friend to keep on hand for the next fill-up.

Just consider it your own “pain in the gas” reduction program.

Harriet Baskas writes's popular weekly column, The Well-Mannered Traveler. She is the author of the , a contributor to National Public Radio and a columnist for