Gas prices fall as holiday travel picks up

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comDecember 13, 2012 

— Anyone trying to save a little money this holiday season will find a welcome relief at the gas pump -- just in time for holiday travel.

The average price of regular gas in Merced was $3.51 for a gallon Thursday, down 29 cents from last month, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge report.

According to AAA, every metro area in Northern California saw a decrease of at least 9 cents over the past month.

"The price of crude oil is dropping, and we're under the $90 a barrel," said Cynthia Harris, senior spokeswomen for AAA. "Plus, there's less demand for crude oil in the winter as compared to summer months."

The cheapest place in Northern California to fill up your tank is right in our back yard -- Modesto -- where regular gas is $3.40 per gallon, down 25 cents from last month.

Harris said the winter blend of gas is much cheaper to produce because it has fewer additives than the summer blend.

By law, all state refineries were required to switch to the winter blend by Oct. 31, which might also explain the decrease in prices.

California's average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas is $3.60, down 25 cents from last month.

But the state still has the fifth-highest average, after Connecticut ($3.70 a gallon), Alaska ($3.72 a gallon), New York ($3.78 a gallon) and Hawaii ($4 a gallon).

"California is always the most expensive, but it's coming down in time for the holidays," Harris said. "It definitely provides some relief for Californians planning to travel over the holidays."

The good news is that the lower prices should last throughout the entire holiday season, allowing travelers the opportunity to take advantage by planning getaways.

"Unless we have a major storm or other unforeseen event, we should be able to continue enjoying a descent in gas prices through the holidays."

The decrease in gas prices has boosted business for local rental car agencies, especially during the holiday season.

Jeff Henenfent, manager at Courtesy Rent-A-Car in Merced, said the lower gas prices make driving for holiday travel less expensive than flying.

"Business has been very good because with the airline's baggage fees and other add-on fees, it's more economical to drive," Henenfent said. "We have quite a few reservations for the Christmas and New Year's holiday."

Last year, Merced's average for a gallon of regular gas was $3.56, but the 5-cent decrease can make a big difference for travelers.

"We've seen a nice increase in reservations, especially compared to last year at this time," noted Henenfent, who's been with the company eight years. "Other rental agencies in town have run out of cars since the gas prices have gone down."

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or

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