Busting Memorial Day gas myths: What you need to know for a budget-friendly road trip

Learn about gas prices, station traffic trends, and money-earning tips to enjoy a holiday weekend that doesn’t break the bank.

May 13, 2024
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Busting Memorial Day gas myths: What you need to know for a budget-friendly road trip
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Busting Memorial Day gas myths: What you need to know for a budget-friendly road trip

As Memorial Day Weekend (MDW) approaches, the unofficial start of summer has people across the United States hitting the road for road trips or visits with family and friends. With the increased demand for fuel, there comes speculation about gas prices, the best time to fill up, and other travel-related topics. In this article, we've looked at data from over 30,000 gas stations and convenience stores nationwide to bust common myths about Memorial Day purchases and reveal the truth behind them.

Myth #1: You'll save money if you fill up the week before Memorial Day

Answer: Fiction

Contrary to popular belief, there is no “cheapest day” for gas prices leading up to Memorial Day. Gas prices are determined by a variety of factors, including fuel supply and demand, refinery output, and geopolitical events, which means there is no particular day or time of day when gas prices are guaranteed to be lower.

One predictable increase in fuel prices occurs annually in the summertime, when refineries switch to producing more expensive, temperature-stable gas blends. The “summer blend” is more expensive for retailers to purchase wholesale, and they pass those price increases to consumers in the form of higher sign prices. But they can only increase sign prices so quickly before consumers start looking around at other stations for better prices; for that reason, many retailers sell fuel at low or negative margins in the short term.

As the chart above shows, prices in 2021 were more expensive all ten days before Memorial Day, while in 2020 and 2022 were usually cheaper leading up to the holiday. 2023 was a bit of an outlier — for the most part, prices were more expensive ahead of the holiday, but there was an abrupt drop four days beforehand. Prices ticked back up the next day, and they remained more expensive through the weekend.

Myth #2: The Friday before Memorial Day is the busiest gas day of the summer

Answer: Fiction

MDW kicks off the summer travel season, so there’s an impression that the Friday before Memorial Day is the busiest day of the year for gas stations. But this isn’t quite true.

That’s not to say the Friday before Memorial Day isn’t busy — it is. But the thing is that every summer Friday is busy, and the Friday before MDW isn’t any busier than the average.

Take a look at the chart below, which plots customer visits for each of the four Fridays before and after Memorial Day. You can see that traffic numbers are generally pretty similar across each week.

So yes, the Friday before Memorial Day is busy for drivers and fuel retailers, but it’s not necessarily the busiest. 

As an aside, you might also notice that visits were consistently higher in 2022. That year, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine snarled the fuel supply chain, which drastically increased prices; when that happens, we observe consumers buying less volume, but visiting stations more frequently.

Myth #3: Signing up for a station's loyalty program will save you money

Answer: Fact 

This is true. Consumers love loyalty programs, because they are a great way to get value from the brands they love — that’s why the average consumer now belongs to 18 different loyalty programs. In the first year of joining a fuel loyalty program, for example, drivers can save anywhere from $8.75 to $55.20.

The kinds of benefits shoppers can receive — points, exclusive coupons, discounts, and more — vary from program to program. What kind of loyalty benefits do shoppers prefer? Our data shows that cash back is the most popular offering with shoppers; at gas stations, Upside survey participants said that they’d want a cash back offer of eight to 10 cents-per-gallon in order to influence a change in their behavior.     

Why would a retailer offer that value? Returning guests represent an opportunity to earn more profit. It’s significantly less expensive to retain an existing customer than it is to acquire a new one.  

Myth #4: Driving at a constant speed will keep your tank fuller, longer

Answer: Fact

This is true — so consider laying off the gas pedal on your way to the beach.

According to FuelEconomy.gov, aggressive drivers that rapidly accelerate and decelerate use 15% to 30% more fuel than those who drive at a constant speed. It takes more fuel to speed your car back up after braking than if you had just kept a slower but steady pace all along.

So if keeping yourself and those around you safe wasn’t enough of a reason to be careful on the road, there’s financial incentive, as well. Extend the life of your fill-up with steady driving.

Myth #5: Most drivers fill up at an out-of-town station for Memorial Day

Answer: Fiction

All the Instagram posts of beachside BBQs might have you feeling like everyone travels for Memorial Day. While we do see a lot of people hit the road for the holiday, the majority of Upside users that claim cash back offers at gas stations aren’t traveling much farther than usual to do so. 

The rest of the year, the typical driver is 4.2 miles away from home when they fill up with Upside; over MDW, the top 50% of Upside users by travel distance fill up about 4.4 miles from home on average. That’s a modest increase of two-tenths of a mile. 

We do, however, start to see larger discrepancies when we filter for smaller segments. The top 25% of Upside users, for example, are filling up 15.6 miles from home over MDW, compared to 13.8 miles usually — that’s 13% farther away over the holiday. And when we look at the top 10% of users, there’s a 24% increase in the distance from their fill-up to their home.

So while there are definitely people hitting the road for the holiday, many folks also stay around home. If you’re one of those drivers traveling far from home, bringing the Upside app with you is a great way to get more value out of your dollar, no matter where you are. 

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This blog was originally published on May 16, 2023, and refreshed on May 13, 2024.

Busting Memorial Day gas myths: What you need to know for a budget-friendly road trip

The Upside Team

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The Upside team is made up of data scientists and industry experts who are passionate about delivering empowering content to our readers. With a focus on providing practical insights and meaningful perspectives, we create engaging materials across a wide range of topics. From exploring industry trends and offering expert analysis to sharing useful tips and inspiring ideas, our team works diligently to provide you with the information you need to thrive.

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