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Cut travel costs with free gas

Hotels can help fund -- and fuel -- a summer road trip, especially in states where gas prices have dropped.

By MSN Money Partner May 17, 2012 1:14PM

This post comes from Kelli B. Grant at partner site SmartMoney.

 

Travelers may find it easier to budget for summer road trips this year: Not only are gas prices falling, but many hotels are offering to fill up the tank.

 

Image: Filling fuel tank (Â Corbis)Hotels often offer free gas cards with a few nights' stay when gas prices are on the rise. Many properties put their latest deals in place this spring when the national average for a gallon of regular unleaded was hovering close to $4 -- and more drivers were pledging to stay home.

 

For example, Riviera Palm Springs Resort & Spa in Palm Springs, Calif., offers a $50 gas card at check-in through May 31, while the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau awards a $25 card with a two-night stay at select properties any time before Sept. 30.

 

But over the past month alone, gas prices have dropped 18 cents, to an average $3.73, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Report. "The deal will go even further now," says Gregg Laskoski, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com. "That card is going to give drivers more value in the tank."

 

Unfortunately, those gas cards won't get you quite as far on the West Coast, where gas prices have been rising instead of falling. In Washington, Oregon, California and Alaska, gas prices are above $4, and experts predict they'll increase further. Regular gas prices range from $4.215 in Oregon to $4.487 in Alaska, according to AAA. (Post continues below.)

More holiday weekend drivers this year

Still, these offers could be worth a look if you're among the nearly 31 million Americans AAA says plan to hit the road over Memorial Day weekend this year. The number of people expecting to drive is up 1.2%, and represents 88% of all holiday-weekend travelers.

 

Most are planning to stay close to home, however -- AAA reports the average trip will be 642 miles, 150 fewer than last year. Laskoski says that's likely because some areas are still seeing elevated gas prices. "There's a tremendous opportunity for destinations to capture the local drive market by offering gas cards," he says.

 

Travelers should still compare rates and offers before booking. Many of the deals require a set number of nights, and some specify that only certain nights of the week are eligible.

 

Dutchies View B&B in Woolwine, Va., promises a $25 gas card for a three-day stay or a $50 one for four nights. "A seven-day stay fills your entire tank," says innkeeper Patrick Powells.

 

Most require travelers to pay the full-room rate, which may make other sales or packages a better deal. A special coupon or code may also be needed to claim the offer before check-in. For example, at participating Marriott resorts in Canada, booking with code TRS means "your car will stay and eat free" -- each weekend night stay gets free on-site parking and a $25 gas card.

Experts say that even though prices are expected to keep dropping over the next few weeks in most states, consumers may continue to see new free-gas deals pop up throughout the summer travel season. "We're anticipating more offers," says Rich Rodriguez, a spokesman for BnBFinder.com. "Gas prices have come down, but they're still high."

 

Already, he says, innkeepers on the site have posted roughly twice as many offers as this time last year. Some of the hotel deals currently in play also have lengthy expiration dates. The Wyndham Tampa Westshore's offer of a $50 gas card with a two-night stay goes through Dec. 31.

 

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