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Michigan gas prices may stay high. Where to find lowest prices, save money

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Consumers are turning to apps and reward programs in response to high Michigan gas prices. In Okemos, stores like Kroger offer reward programs for fuel purchases. (Bridge photo by Zahra Ahmad)

LANSING — As Michigan gas prices averaged more than $4 per gallon for the second straight week, Cristy Lake walked into a Meijer gas station Monday looking for a deal.

Lake, who lives in Bellevue northeast of Battle Creek, drives a lot because of her job managing several salons in Grand Rapids and Detroit. She uses an app, GetUpside that tells consumers which gas stations offer rewards.

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“Some gas stations will give you 18 cents off a gallon; others will give you 25 cents off a gallon,” Lake told Bridge Michigan. “That’s about the best I got right now, unfortunately.”

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She’s not alone in her sticker shock — or frugality.

Driven by  Russia's invasion of the Ukraine, gas prices in Michigan jumped to $4.23 on average this week, with highest prices in the Upper Peninsula, north central Lower Peninsula and metro Detroit (except Wayne County). 

For the eleventh straight week, the nation’s average gas price also rose, climbing 26.4 cents from a week ago to $4.32, according to AAA Michigan. 

Michigan’s average is up 88 cents from a month ago, and it’s $1.43 per gallon higher than a year ago. The reasons include production from the nation’s oil companies, which still haven’t ramped up to pre-pandemic levels, and sanctions on Russia, “one of the top energy exporters on the planet,” said Matthew Ross, an assistant professor of finance at Western Michigan University. 

“That is sending ripple effects throughout global oil markets, which is directly translating the higher prices at the pump,” Ross said.

Many consumers are now finding ways to save what they can at the pumps and their behavior could impact prices, Ross told Bridge Michigan. 

“If enough consumers cut back on their use of fuel, you would expect the price at the pump to decline,” Ross said. “We may already be seeing some of that because folks are so surprised about how much the price has gone up.”

Ross said it's uncertain how much gas prices will increase as a lot of that depends on what happens between Russia and Ukraine. The cost of a barrel of oil leaped to $123 right after the invasion, but more recently fell below $110 per barrel. 

Gas prices typically increase in spring, as driving picks up in warmer months and refineries switch to more expensive blends of summer gas that slow the evaporation as temperatures rise.

Here are other tips to cut costs during this uncertain time:

Shop for the best price.

Like with many consumer goods, you may be able to find a better deal — especially if you fold the hunt for a lower price into your driving patterns so that you stop at a cheaper pump with little effort (and no extra driving). 

Gas stations pay for fuel, including the taxes, when it’s delivered. So pricing may reflect a tank that was purchased before a price increase, said Mark Griffin, president of the Michigan Petroleum Association (MPA), which represents 400 businesses that operate 1,500 locations like gas stations and distributors in the state. 

But gas station operators also may have another motive: Luring customers inside for convenience-store products, which are more profitable.

“(Some) watch what their competitors are doing and they try to sell gasoline as a loss leader to get people to come in their door,” Griffin told Bridge Michigan last week. Others, if they rely on fuel for their primary product,  “may not be as price competitive.”

Geography and the area’s relative affluence may also play a role. The Upper Peninsula stations pay an extra 8 to 10 cents per gallon in transport fees. Downstate areas with a lot of competing stations — or price-conscious customers  — may have the lowest prices.

Sometimes, a few miles can make a big difference. 

A BP in Dearborn, for instance, was selling gas for $3.83 a gallon if customers paid in cash on Monday, while it was 20 cents more on the other side of the city. Another station, close to the Dearborn Heights border, was charting $4.19 cash.

There are more tricks to pay less

Smartphones make shopping for a deal easier. Get the apps for your favorite stations and check the map for prices along your route.

You also can carry cash to use if you spot a station offering a discount if you don’t charge the purchase. That could be 10 cents a gallon. One 15-gallon fill-up would save $1.50. Four in a month would save $6. And over the course of a year, that could be hundreds of dollars saved on what you’d buy anyway.

GasBuddy is one app that tracks prices among competitors. If you face longer drives and may be in unfamiliar territory, it can help you find cheaper gas. Geico also gives consumers a gas station tracker,  as do AAA and Gas Guru. 

Consumers can also use popular navigation apps,  such as Waze and Google Maps,  to track local gas prices. 

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Many retailers also offer deals, usually in exchange for membership in a discount program or warehouse club. Kroger will cut your gas price at a branded station, with the amount based on purchases over the preceding month. Sam’s Club and Costco also offer special member pricing. 

Another strategy: Use less gas.

How you drive can affect fuel consumption, says AAA Michigan. 

Among changes to consider:

  • Keep up with regular maintenance. 
  • Keep tires properly inflated. 
  • Drive the speed limit. Fuel economy on the highway will drop significantly as speeds increase above 50 mph.
  • Avoid hard acceleration. 
  • Adjust your speed to “time” the traffic lights to limit repeated braking and acceleration.
  • Coast when approaching a red light or stop sign, take your foot off the gas early and allow your car to coast down to a slower speed until it is time to brake.
  • And looking ahead to summer: Prepare to minimize your use of air conditioning. 

Consider public or shared transportation.

Michigan’s Department of Transportation says public transportation options exist in nearly every region in Michigan. Checking into what’s available could be worth it, both reducing your out-of-pocket gas costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

For longer trips, or even heading out of state, both Greyhound buses and Amtrak trains have multiple stops in the state.

Here is a list of local transportation providers, some of which offer dial-a-ride. 

Some rides will cost more. Uber recently announced a surcharge of up to 55 cents starting on Wednesday. That money will go to drivers, including those delivering Uber Eats. 

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