The summer driving season is in full swing, but for many entrepreneurs, it isn't just about trips to the beach. Summer means higher gas prices on sales calls, deliveries, and visits to suppliers.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the retail price of regular-grade gasoline is expected to average $3.57 per gallon through 2011 and $3.65 per gallon in 2012.
So how can we clamp down on gas spending and protect our budget for iced coffee, suntan lotion, and battery-powered personal fans? As the kids say these days, "There's an app for that."
In this roundup, we feature apps and mobile websites that help drivers make informed decisions about where to gas up -- and reward gas stations that keep prices low.
Gas station location and pricing information is useful for at least three purposes:
- Finding the nearest station: When you're down to fumes, you may pay any price.
- Traveling on a budget: Whether you map your gas stops in advance or on the fly, you or your copilot can pick rest stops based on gas price.
- Commuting on a regular route, for less: If your driving is predictable -- bouncing from home to the office, or back and forth to customers and vendors -- you'd might as well get it down to a science. Pick the station that will save you a few bucks per fill-up, especially if you manage several vehicles.
Speaking of which, you may wonder how much can you save by shopping around. While we wouldn't recommend driving an extra 30 miles to save 10 cents per gallon, you might divert your route to save 30 or 40 cents per gallon. (Unfortunately, these apps won't point you to free gas or truly cheap gas -- only gas fairies can do that.)
Below, we feature free apps and websites by GasBuddy, AAA TripTik Mobile, MapQuest and Poynt. These are available in iOS and Android versions (at least) and offer websites accessible from desktops or mobile devices.
Overview: Founded in 2000, GasBuddy crowdsources its gas price data and database of gas stations. Currently, 5 million members are making 3 million gas price reports per week, for 145,000 stations. GasBuddy institutionalizes freshness by automatically deleting price reports after 48 hours.
Features: GasBuddy's apps offer two main views: map and list. Using your phone's GPS, the app shows all nearby stations. In the map view, you'll see station logos and the current regular gas price. Tapping on a logo leads to a pop-up about the station, with basic information; tapping that leads to a full page about the gas station, with prices, address, photos, and a list of amenities. The list view is sortable by price or distance. In the Android app's settings, you can click to exclude stations that lack current prices.
Besides only providing gas station data -- unlike the other apps in our roundup, it doesn't offer hotel or restaurant info -- GasBuddy apps are limited in that they calculate distances based only on your current GPS location. You can't punch in, say, the address of the hotel where you'll be staying tomorrow night. Similarly, once you view a gas station's full page and click for directions, the GasBuddy apps forward you to Google Maps or (on Android phones) allow you to select map apps. Once you leave GasBuddy's apps, though, you can't call up GasBuddy's set of nearby gas stations -- you can get directions to only the one station you chose. If you change your mind, you have to return to GasBuddy.
While the mobile site has functions (and limitations) similar to the apps, the full website version of GasBuddy.com is well worth a visit on your phone. In addition to a blog, community discussions, and pricing data, you'll find a Trip Cost Calculator that projects your gas usage based on your destination and car make. Unlike the apps, the Cost Calculator is integrated with Google Maps and provides directions.
Best for: Commuters and those who need prices relative to their current GPS location, not for future trip locations. Data-oriented folks may enjoy reporting prices -- they can earn points and prizes for contributing to the community and GasBuddy's larger mission of rewarding gas stations with lower prices.
AAA TripTik Mobile
Overview: Founded in 1902, AAA asserts it is "North America's largest motoring and leisure travel organization" with "more than 52 million members." Its TripTik apps present not only gas station locations and pricing, but content from its AAA Approved system of rating hotels, restaurants, attractions, campgrounds, auto repair shops, local events, and AAA office locations.
Features: As with GasBuddy, above, you can toggle between map view and list view. On the map, gas station icons appear near your GPS location or a destination you input. When you tap on a location, the station name and price pop up; tap that to view the station's full details page. You can then tap for directions - and here's the difference between TripTik and GasBuddy: TripTik's settings let you indicate whether your GPS location should be used as a starting point. This helps when you're planning stops on future trips. Moreover, even as you follow the directions -- with optional turn-by-turn audio instructions, if you wish -- you can still switch to Explore mode to show nearby restaurants, hotels, and so on, on your map. You can even edit your route to add new locations.
Best For: For those seeking more than gas prices on a regular commute, TripTik offers the road trip information and guidance that AAA is known for. Members will note the "SAVE" icon on selected hotel listings. Even if you're not a AAA member, you can create and save routes, drawing on TripTik's gas price data and AAA ratings of a wide variety of roadside necessities, such as hotels, restaurants, and attractions.
Overview: MapQuest.com, owned by AOL, is one of the Internet's most popular mapping and directions sites. Like TripTik, above, the MapQuest app provides GPS-enabled maps and directions, with voiced turn-by-turn instructions. What's different is the range of amenities that MapQuest shows on its maps. While TripTik shows road-trip-oriented points of interest -- gas stations, hotels, restaurants, and so on, as listed above -- MapQuest adds traffic information and locations for everyday needs: grocery stores, shopping centers, coffee shops, post offices, parking garages, and schools.
Features: Although the iOS version doesn't yet provide gas prices, the Android, BlackBerry, and mobile site versions show a pop-up with basic information and prices (where available) when you tap on a gas station icon. When you tap the pop-up, you'll see the gas station's full information page, with the date of the price report. As with TripTik, driving directions are integrated into the app, so you can generate a route and tap to see gas stations and amenities along your way; you can also add stops to your route.
Best for: With its extended range of mapped "everyday" amenities (grocery stores and similar), MapQuest may appeal to business travelers who settle in for a few days at client or vendor locations.
Overview: Poynt offers gas station and pricing information with other location-based search categories: nearby businesses, people, movies, and restaurants. In this sense, it's like the TripTik and MapQuest apps described above. Unlike those apps, though, Poynt can't show all those categories at once, say, on a map of your zip code. Instead, the gas category has a list view that's sortable by distance or price, relative to your current GPS location or one you designate. Once you view the full description of a gas station, you can select "Search from Here" to find nearby locations from other categories (for example, restaurants).
Features: Like GasBuddy, described above, Poynt outsources its mapping and directions functions to Google Maps or other apps you select (such as MapQuest). The disadvantage is that once you've left Poynt to see a map of a suggested route, you can't add icons for Poynt's other local information -- say, the locations of restaurants or hotels along the way.
Best for: Without hotel listings, Poynt may fit best as an entertainment app -- for finding food and tickets for entertaining clients, dates, or families -- and finding gas stations along the way.