Pain at the pump?
It’s all relative.
U.S. motorists will experience the cheapest Labor Day weekend for driving in four years, though prices in Las Vegas continue to run about 25 cents per gallon higher than the national average.
The AAA Fuel Gauge Report early in the week noted the national average price for regular unleaded gasoline is continuing to fall, with a national average of about $3.44 per gallon, the lowest average since Feb. 26. It represented the second lowest on record for that calendar day since 2010 when the national average was $2.70.
Still, the average price for regular unleaded in Las Vegas hovered around $3.69 per gallon on Friday, according to AAA. That is about 9 cents a gallon cheaper than a month ago, but about 22 cents a gallon above last year, when motorists were shelling out an average of $3.47.
With a 20-gallon fill-up, the tab is $4.40 costlier this year compared with 2013.
Still, today’s prices appear paltry compared with Las Vegas’ all-time high of $4.28 a gallon in June 2008.
An official with GasBuddy.com said market conditions will continue to drive prices lower.
“We expect to see stable gasoline prices from now through mid-September,” GasBuddy.com chief oil analyst Tom Kloza said in a statement. “Some more significant declines could come after Sept. 15 when the ‘recipe’ for gasoline changes in most states. By Veterans Day, we anticipate that much of the country could be looking at average prices below $3.25 a gallon with thousands of stations under $3 a gallon.”
AAA noted the same trend. On Aug. 18, AAA reported that gasoline prices continued to decrease one month out from the “recipe” shift from more expensive summer blend gasoline to the relatively less expensive winter blend.
Because of a combination of lower prices and a slight downshift in demand — think more Priuses and a smattering of Teslas on the road — consumers have had more spending cash in recent weeks. In its statement, GasBuddy analysts calculate the U.S. motor fuel bill has occasionally been $500 million cheaper in some weeks this August compared to the same period in 2013.
GasBuddy further notes that regions that receive most of their gasoline from the U.S. Gulf Coast, which accounts for more than 51 percent of U.S. refinery capacity, could see the cheapest prices. Its statement noted some very competitive retailers have dropped prices to $3 gallon or lower in 10 states — all of which get much of their fuel from Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi refiners.
But what about California and its Las Vegas-bound tourists, gamblers and partyers?
GasBuddy reports that the 60-day outlook for California and the Northeastern U.S. is different since the the Golden State doesn’t get much cheap shale oil and won’t shift to an autumn gasoline recipe until Nov. 1. Meanwhile, GasBuddy notes, Northeastern supply tightness could linger because of looming refinery maintenance in the Canadian Maritimes.
In its Wednesday statement, GasBuddy also noted:
— The 10 states likely to see average gasoline prices of less than $3.25 gallon are New Jersey, Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. Some stations in these states are pumping gas for less than $3 per gallon.
— The period from Labor Day to mid-November traditionally brings one of the most significant historical downtrends in prices. In 2008, pump prices fell $1.57 gallon in that stretch, although most of that plunge was tied to the financial crisis. In the past three years, the average gasoline price dropped 34.7 cents per gallon in the period.
— Cheaper gasoline prices could motivate additional travel for travelers who might ordinarily opt to fly. The fuel necessary for a Los Angeles-to-San Francisco round-trip, for example, can be bought for about $104 this weekend. That compares with air fares of more than $400. The same is true for Boston-to-New York, where motorists could pay about $63, or less than 20 percent of the cost of an airline seat.
— The most expensive average Labor Day gasoline occurred in 2012 when prices hit just over $3.83 per gallon.
Stephens Media’s Times Record in Fort Smith, Ark., contributed to this report. Contact Review-Journal writer Daniel Behringer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 383-0296. Find him on Twitter: @DanBehringer221