Fuel is known for its volatile prices, and at its worst, can be a budget-breaker. But many sources predict that gas prices are likely to stay steady in 2020—making $3 gas a thing of the past.
Our customers use their Divvy cards to cover the costs of business travel, including gas expenses. We wanted to see if our data reflected national trends—have prices actually decreased? And which gas stations are consistently offering the best prices?
Average gas prices in 2019
To dive into the data, we first queried transactions looking for purchases made at fuel and service stations in 2019 (using Merchant Category Codes 5541 and 5542). We ended up with over 585,000 transactions.
Next, we sorted our list by total transaction count to see where our customers were filling up most often. We took the top 20 fuel vendors from that list and calculated for average transaction total, most of which floated between $30-$50.
Because these numbers seemed to fairly represent the cost of filling up a tank, we decided to divide the average transaction total by the average tank size (13.5 gal) to get a rough estimate of which gas stations had the best prices per gallon last year.
Here are the average gas prices of 2019, cheapest to most expense.
- Sunoco: $2.01
- Circle K: $2.54
- QuikTrip: $2.62
- Conoco: $2.69
- BP: $2.81
- Marathon: $2.88
- Exxon Mobil: $2.90
- Phillips 66: $3.04
- Shell: $3.09
- Chevron: $3.23
- 76: $3.36
- Maverik: $3.57
- Pilot/Flying J: $4.33
Fuel for your car or fuel for your belly?
The first things we noticed were our outliers.
When we ran our initial analysis, 7-Eleven was the most popular vendor—by far. However, the average transaction amount was only $7.04 and obviously, 7-Eleven isn’t giving away gas at $0.52 per gallon.
Because of the MCC codes we used, we were unable to filter out non-fuel purchases, so there’s a good chance people were using their business cards at 7-Eleven to buy cheap coffee or snacks when traveling. Plus, there are a decent number of 7-Eleven locations that are just convenience stores and don’t sell gas at all (For example, of the 106 7-Eleven locations in Chicago, only 1 is a gas station).
We decided to remove 7-Eleven from our list, but we still had another outlier—at the other side of the spectrum. Pilot Flying J had an average transaction total of $58.50, more than $10 higher than Maverik, our runner-up.
However, Pilot Flying J gas locations often feature full-scale restaurants in addition to fuel pumps. For example, in our state, almost every Flying J has a sit-down Denny’s, but they also partner with fast-food options like KFC, Pizza Hut, and Wendy’s. Paying for food on-the-go could have easily increased the price per gallon for Flying J.
Pilot Flying J’s also advertise amenities for professional drivers—like public laundry rooms and showers. These customers would likely be filling up tanks much bigger than 13.5 gallons.
We also observed that the most popular gas stations weren’t always the cheapest options. Chevron was the second most frequented fuel provider, but had one of higher averages per gallon—at $3.23. It could be that business travelers aren’t as concerned about getting the best deal when it’s on the company card (or it could just be that Chevron’s 7,800 locations make it an easy option on the road).
Prices have already decreased in 2020
Based on our top 20 list, the average cost of a gallon of gas last year was $2.88—the EIA has overall 2019 average gas prices at $2.60. This discrepancy could reflect biases in our data, or, more likely, it’s a reflection of a roughly $0.28 average non-gas purchase as part of the transaction.
Regardless, the good news is that this year’s prices are already lower. Today’s national average is closer to $2.45/gallon—here’s hoping gas prices continue to stay low in 2020.
Check out our other Divvy Research piece going over the most popular gas stations for business purchases.