Metro Atlanta gas prices dip as summer vacation season approaches

Pump prices are about 15 cents a gallon higher than a year ago, but have come down in recent weeks as travel season starts.
Views of gas pumps in Roswell, Ga, shown on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (Natrice Miller/ AJC)

Credit: Natrice Miller

Credit: Natrice Miller

Views of gas pumps in Roswell, Ga, shown on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (Natrice Miller/ AJC)

As millions of American drivers take to the roads for the Memorial Day weekend — and the summer vacations beyond — they’ll find gasoline prices 15 cents a gallon more costly than a year ago, but lower than earlier in the spring.

Metro Atlanta stations were charging an average of $3.39 a gallon for regular on Monday afternoon, compared to a national average of $3.56, according to Gas Buddy, which tracks fuel prices across the country.

Since the start of May, the trendline has been down, said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy. “The news continues to be good for motorists, with gasoline prices again falling, making it four straight weeks of declines.” Through the rest of the “summer driving season,” gas prices should trend lower, he said.

Of course, there are wild cards, De Haan said: events in the Middle East that could affect oil production, maintenance at the nation’s refineries that could slow production of fuel and an uncertain hurricane season, which could completely shut refineries or pipelines that serve the Southeast.

Generally, the main factor in gas prices is the price of oil, which is set globally. That price rose last week, but dipped slightly Monday as more information emerged about the helicopter crash death of Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi.

Gasoline, perhaps the only consumer price trumpeted in large numbers in thousands of places, is a volatile commodity, subject to the whims of economics and geopolitics, as well as the attempts of government to tinker at the edges.

Four years ago, with so many businesses shuttered by the pandemic and so many Americans staying home, demand was at a low ebb and the average price of gasoline was just $1.63 a gallon. The next year, with the economy rebounding — but many drivers still garaged — the price was up to $2.90 a gallon.

Two years ago, with the markets still reeling from the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the federal government only beginning to release some oil from the nation’s strategic reserve, the price had shot to $4.15 a gallon. It would briefly climb even higher, peaking at $4.54 and then sliding steadily lower in late summer and autumn.

And at any given moment, the price of gasoline varies wildly from station to station. In metro Atlanta on Monday, the price of a gallon was as low as $2.99 at a Costco and Sam’s Club in Alpharetta. It was as high as $4.19 at a Shell and $4.09 at a Chevron, both in Atlanta.

Statewide, the gas average for regular as the week began was $3.38 per gallon, according to AAA-The Auto Club Group.

Georgia’s average was 12 cents above the average a year ago, said Montrae Waiters, spokeswoman for AAA. If crude remains low, typically gas prices will do the same.” But she also warned that a surge in driving could push prices higher.

The most expensive Georgia metro markets for gas are Hinesville-Fort Stewart and Savannah, which average about $3.50 a gallon, she said. The least expensive are Catoosa-Dade-Walker, where gas averages $3.17 and Dalton, which averages $3.23.

On average, filling a 15-gallon tank now costs about $1 less than a month ago, but still totals more than $50, Waiters said. But how often a vehicle needs that fill-up depends on the efficiency of its engine.

American cars average 24.4 mpg, but there are dramatic extremes both above and below that figure, according to the Alternative Fuels Data Center of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Cars getting average mileage could go 366 miles on 15 gallons.

Light trucks average 17.8 mpg, the government said, performance that would take a vehicle 267 miles on 15 gallons.

At the low end of efficiency are cars like the Bentley Continental, which gets 15 mpg and the Mercedes-Benz AMG, a compact that gets 17 mpg.

In contrast, some hybrids, like the Toyota Prius, can average more than 50 mpg, which translates to 750 miles. However, they typically have smaller tanks requiring more than one fill up to use 15 gallons.

Drivers of electric vehicles, of course, have no need to worry about pump prices when it comes to holiday travel. Their challenge, at least when on a long drive, is finding a charging station.

And fuel is not the only vacation cost. Travelers will see average costs for hotels and motels slightly below that of a year ago, but the rapid increases of 2021 and 2022 mean that average is roughly 14% above lodging costs of five years ago, according to NerdWallet, an online financial site. Hotel owners attribute the earlier increases to higher costs for materials, energy and labor.

Airline tickets on average are down 7.1% since last spring, and are only up about 3% from five years ago, according to Bankrate, an online financial adviser.

Metro Atlanta gas prices

As of Monday: $3.39

One month ago: $3.42

One year ago: $3.24

Five-year high: $4.54 (June 2022)

Five-year low: $1.60 (April 2020)

Sources: Gas Buddy, AAA-The Auto Group