Travelers shouldn't look to beat high gasoline prices this year by taking advantage of every rental car outlet's offer to let you pay ahead of time for a full tank of gas.
Only Enterprise Rent-A-Car's prices for prepaying for gasoline are generally lower than the average price at local gas stations, a new USA TODAY survey finds.
Paying ahead for a full tank is a money-saving strategy some travelers use as prices hover around $4 a gallon at many gas stations and as the price of returning a car without refueling is more than double that.
But the survey found that filling up at a nearby service station is travelers' best bet.
USA TODAY surveyed prepay prices, the average price charged at nearby pumps and the per-gallon cost of topping off the tank at the end of a trip at eight big rental car brands' facilities at 10 airports on April 12.
The airports were Atlanta, Boston, Chicago O'Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, New York JFK, New York LaGuardia and San Francisco.
The survey found Enterprise offered gasoline for an average of $3.94 a gallon for customers who pay ahead for a full tank. The average price at stations in the metropolitan areas of the 10 airports was $4.07.
At 10 airports, just 44% of the prepay prices charged by the eight big rental car brands -- Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National and Thrifty -- were lower than the average price at local gas stations.
Last year, a similar USA TODAY survey of 13 airport rental outlets found that more than half the prepay prices were less expensive. This year's survey also found:
Enterprise had the lowest prepay price at five airports and Hertz at four. Enterprise's prepay prices at nine of 10 airports were below the average local gas station price.
At Boston's Logan and Chicago's O'Hare airports, most prepay prices were less than the average local gas station price. But at Atlanta, Miami and Denver, rental companies' prepay prices were higher than average gas station prices.
Airport renters of Avis, Budget, Hertz, Thrifty and Dollar vehicles who don't pay ahead of time for gas and don't fill the tank themselves can expect to be charged $8.99 or more per gallon.
The most expensive was $9.30 a gallon, charged by Avis and Budget at airports in Boston, Dallas/Fort Worth and Denver.
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