With Gasoline Holding Steady, Americans Prepare to Hit the Road

(Bloomberg) -- The typical 50-cent spring surge in gasoline prices hasn’t happened this year, and American drivers are gearing up for summer road trips as the Memorial Day weekend approaches.

Regular gasoline averaged $2.367 a gallon Tuesday, according to the American Automobile Association -- up just 2.5 cents from Jan. 1 and within 8 cents of the five-year low for the date. The price has stayed in a range of 16.1 cents, from $2.262 to $2.423, versus a year-earlier range of almost 60 cents.

With Gasoline Holding Steady, Americans Prepare to Hit the Road

Drivers have responded to the low, stable prices by buying. U.S. gasoline consumption rose in April to 9.27 million barrels a day, the most ever for the month, the American Petroleum Institute said. Total fuel deliveries, a measure of demand, increased 1.7 percent to the highest April total since 2008. Typically, higher demand leads to higher pump prices, but not this year.

“Refinery runs have been really high and gasoline inventories have been higher than normal, so this increase in demand has been met with an increase in supply,” Mason Hamilton, an analyst at the U.S. Energy Information Administration, said by phone.

U.S. gasoline inventories hit a record high of 259.1 million barrels in February, EIA data show. The stable price of crude this year has also been a factor, Hamilton said.

Hitting the Road

Fuel prices are almost the same as they were at Memorial Day last year, when holiday travelers paid $2.33, according to GasBuddy, a price tracker based in Boston.

“Watching gas prices go up and up shifts driver sentiment ahead of summer driving season,” Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy, said by phone. “Because there hasn’t been a significant increase, people are feeling great about hitting the road.”

AAA forecast last week that more than 39 million Americans will travel over the Memorial Day weekend, the second-highest total on record, and 34.6 million will drive.

Americans will continue to travel throughout the summer, according to GasBuddy’s annual Summer Travel Study, more than 82 percent of those surveyed plan to take a road trip this summer, 7 percent more than last year. A majority said they’d take at least two trips, and 17 percent said they’ll travel because of the low price of fuel.

“People are going to be traveling more than they did last year even though gas prices are a little higher -- there is a perception that we haven’t been hit by the spring spike,” DeHaan said.