Incentives: Making the Most of High Gas Prices

Leave it to American business to take a problem, such as the high gasoline prices that plague drivers today, and turn it into an opportunity. By turning gasoline into a purchase incentive for cars and hotel stays, these businesses are showing that even in bleak economic times, there are ways to do well by doing good for their customers.  

Automotive Incentives
Concerned that high gasoline prices will translate into lower automobile sales, both Suzuki and Chrysler, as well as private dealers around the country, are offering gasoline as an incentive to bring customers through the door.  

Suzuki and Chrysler: Examples from the Manufacturers
Since 2006, Suzuki has been offering either a $25 or a $50 gas card to customers who test drive their vehicles. This year, they have a promotion running through June 30th that gives a VISA debit card with $320 to $470 on it (depending on the model) for buyers of new 2008 and 2009 Suzukis. The condition here is that the purchaser must qualify to finance the purchase through Suzuki Financial Services, which is offering a 0% introductory interest rate.

Chrysler offers consumers its “Let’s Refuel America” program. Customers who purchase or lease one of 23 non-SRT models of Chrysler, Jeep or Dodge vehicles will receive a gas card that will, at participating gas stations, reduce the price of gasoline to $2.99 a gallon for three years. Prices could rise to $5.00 or more per gallon and purchasers of these vehicles will still pay only $2.99 for the first three years after the purchase. There are no conditions and the benefit is available the moment the customer takes the keys.

Promotions on the Local Level
You don’t need to be a huge company to be able to offer gasoline promotions. Take, for example, Denver Dodge dealer David Fitzgerald, the owner of Northglenn Dodge. "We're a little more hard hit up here in the north part of Denver ," Fitzgerald said in a recent interview with the Denver Business Journal. "We sell a lot of diesel trucks. It's a big, big deal. We've enhanced it with our own incentives." Fitzgerald looked at his market segment and enhanced the existing Chrysler program by offering his customers $0.99 per gallon gas rebates for a year.

Max Motors, a used car dealership in Butler , Missouri , had a promotion that ended at the end of May that also offered customers gasoline as an incentive. This program, however, was a little different in that his customers had their choice of either $250 in gasoline or a free semi-automatic handgun. Customers preferred the firearm by a margin of 80%. A customer falling into that 80% received a certificate for the weapon, which they then had to take to a firearms dealer, who then completed all the paperwork, initiated the required background check and held the pistol for the requisite waiting period, just like any other gun purchase. Walter Moore, a spokesperson for the dealership, explained it this way to KMBC-TV news: "We got high gas prices, theft, carjackings, innocent people getting hurt.”

The automobile industry is not the only purveyor of gasoline incentives. They are also cropping up in the travel industry. A number of places—motels, hotels and resorts—are using gas cards, gas price guarantees and other gasoline-related programs to entice people back behind the wheel for the summer vacation season.

Gas Price Guarantees
A prime example of this kind of incentive can be found near the Virginia coast in the Jamestown-Yorktown-Colonial Williamsburg historic area. Several hotels are offering the same gasoline deal: a $2.99 per gallon price guarantee. Here is how it works: Book three or more nights at the Best Western Historic Area, the Days Inn Historic Area, Days Inn Colonial Resort, or the Days Hotel Busch Gardens and save your gas receipts. When you check in, your receipts will be copied and the difference between what you paid for gas to get there and $2.99 per gallon will be calculated and taken off your bill.  

There is a catch, of course, since all the receipts must be dated within the 24 hour period leading up to your arrival at the hotel. The deal is good for only one vehicle per room and only one receipt may be presented from a gas station in any given city or town. In addition, the maximum value you can expect to get back is $75.00 and the promotion only runs between June 9th and August 31st, 2008.


Gas Card Offers
Select properties of the Hilton, Holiday Inn and Marriott chains are offering gas cards. In an offer good through March 1st, 2009, the Hilton Santa Fe is offering guests a $20 gas card for each night they stay. At the Holiday Inn San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf, guests receive a $25 gas card while at the Marriott Renaissance Portsmouth Hotel & Waterfront Conference Center in Portsmouth , Va. , guests can look forward to a $25 gas card and free in-room movie. Both of these other offers are good through December 31st, 2008.

Don’t think that gas card offers are limited to the big chains; plenty of small hotels are offering this incentive as well. The High Haven House Bed & Breakfast Inn in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts is offering visitors from New England a $75 gas card and those traveling from New York or farther a $150 gas card through Oct. 31st, 2009. Show up at the Stevenswood Lodge in Little River, California and you will get a $50 gas card. That’s nice, but if you arrive in a hybrid vehicle and you get an additional $100 cash rebate. You have to take advantage of this quickly, though, because the promotion is set to end on June 19th, 2008.


Even Government Gets Involved
Don’t get your hopes up, I’m not talking about the Federal government. Local government, however, eager to preserve its tourism income, can be counted on to help out from time to time.

Take, for example, a program from the tourism board at that music mecca, Branson , Missouri . With their program, you check into your hotel and receive a gas coupon that saves you 20-cents per gallon at the Branson 1st Stop Travel-Plex. The coupon is good for seven days and the offer through December 31st, 2008. Farther north in Lancaster County , Pennsylvania , the heart of Pennsylvania ’s Dutch Country, visitors staying in one of the 30+ participating hotels will receive a $10 gas card for one night and a $25 gas card for two or more nights. This is another incentive you’ll need to jump on quickly since it only runs through June 30th, 2008.


The Bottom Line
This is just a smattering of the gas-related incentives available this summer. If you are a consumer, do a little research and you will find others. Just remember to shop around. You want to figure out how much that gas card or discount offer will actually take off the cost of your trip. You may find that it is cheaper to take advantage of other specials and promotions and pay for the gas.


On the other hand, if you are a businessman looking for a promotion that will really catch the attention of consumers today, and you don’t feel comfortable handing out pistol vouchers like the good folks at Max Motors, you can hardly do better than a gasoline-related incentive.