Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sneaky Tricks Some Gas Stations Use to Rip You Off

Imagine you're on vacation or a business trip. You're running late getting to the airport for the flight out and still need to fill up before returning the rental car. No worries though because you saw a gas station across the street from the rental lot when you got into town.

You pull into the station, swipe your credit card and start pumping. While the fuel is flowing you look around and realize there's no big sign with the gas prices. Hmmm...that's odd. Then you look at the price on the pump and realize you're paying two dollars a gallon more than the local average price! You're getting ripped off!

Yeah, this happened to me recently while vacationing in Orlando...almost. I did swipe my card but noticed the price as I was reaching for the nozzle. It was $3.99/gallon. The local going rate was $2.06/gallon at the time!

The culprit was the convenience store gas station on SR 436 (Semoran Blvd) north of Orlando International Airport directly across from the Thrifty and Hertz lots. No sign anywhere with prices except the little display on the pump...which is difficult to read due to sun glare. No doubt they're hoping that rental car drivers will stop and fill up in a hurry before they realize their wallet's getting cleaned out.

I expect stations to charge a little more in locations like that because they're selling "convenience". But nearly double the going rate?! That's ridiculous. They must make a ton off of tourists and business travelers...I can't imagine many locals buy gas there.

Fortunately I saw the price before I started pumping and in time to alert the guy at the next pump. We both canceled our credit card transactions and drove a mile up the road to a 7-11 charging $2.11/gallon.

Lesson learned...always check the price on the pump before filling up...especially at a station you haven't used before.

P.S.: Make sure you select the fuel grade you want. I stopped at a station in rural Maryland once that had the grade buttons in the order Premium, Regular, Plus...not Premium, Plus, Regular like every other gas station. If you expected Regular to be on the end and hit that button, you're now buying Plus instead.

They also had the octane stickers down near the bottom of the pump instead of near the buttons so you don't have that extra visual cue that something's different. That tells me they're intentionally trying to trick customers into selecting a higher priced fuel grade.