Sometimes Saving Bucks on Fuel Is False Economy

Strive to get what you pay for, and sometimes that's more than just the gas.

My wife, Leslie, sometimes teases me for remembering where all the cheapest gas stations are around our home town. I catch myself saying, "You paid 12 cents more per gallon where you went! Why, for 11 gallons that's…"

That's when I shut up.

If I'm driving by anyway, I'm happy to save a buck or two on a fill-up. But let's not go crazy with this, scribbling notes and setting up spreadsheets. It's the same with FBOs and fuel prices. For sure, you can save a bundle by planning a long trip using AirNav or one of the other price-tracking services. If you're looking for nothing more than a clean tankful of 100LL or jet-A, why not pick airports that might save a dollar or more per gallon? But even if you're only passing through, it pays to consider some of the other elements that go into the price of fuel, and what some of the slightly more expensive airports have to offer.

For many FBOs, the posted price reflects much more than the sum of his wholesale price plus a greedy profit. Depending on the FBO's relationship with the airport, or the airport authority, it may be paying hefty flowage fees or other "tribute" for the privilege of operating the business on their hallowed ground. On the other hand, some municipalities roll out the fiscal equivalent of a red carpet to have a good FBO acting as the airside gateway to the community. If that guy is charging top dollar for fuel, he's double dipping in the greed cookie jar. The problem is, it's virtually impossible to tell from the outside which is which. I do know of one FBO that posts a breakdown showing where every penny goes from each gallon of fuel. But that's rare.

I'm probably just as likely to plan my cross-country fuel stops at airports that might be of particular interest. I happen to have stopped at Griffing Sandusky Airport in Ohio on this year's Oshkosh AirVenture pilgrimage. I had a pleasant chat with one of the third-generation family members who still keep Griffing Flying Service afloat. Grandpa Griffing's gone now, but as his grandson filled my tanks, he also filled me in on the airport's and family's history. They're pretty much one and the same. "If you're going to Oshkosh," he volunteered, "be sure to tell my sister inside and get the discount."

I forget how much the fuel cost. But I remember the conversation, and it was worth every penny.

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