I’ve been in the Orlando area for the last week, driving as far afield as Tampa and Melbourne. During my travels, I’ve noticed that regular unleaded gas sells for a low price of about $3.75/gallon, no matter whether it is in the Melbourne area, Orlando, or Tampa area. Some places would sell for another 10c or so a gallon, but consistently, within close on a hundred mile radius of Orlando, the low price was around $3.75.
With one exception.
I went to return my rental car on Monday afternoon, and had agreed to return it with a full tank. Payless threatened to charge me $7/gallon if the tank wasn’t full (actually, a reasonably fair price, by rental car company standards) but I thought I’d simply fill up myself and save $3.25/gallon.
So, on Semoran Blvd, just off the Beach Line Expressway and about a mile from the Payless depot, I pulled into a large prosperous looking gas station that didn’t have prices advertised on any clearly visible sign. Only on getting in to the station forecourt did I see a reference to prices in the high five dollar range, almost six dollars. Surely that couldn’t be for regular unleaded gas? Maybe it was for some sort of special eco-fuel? I went up to a pump, and there were the prices, every bit as much as shown on the sign – pennies less than $6 a gallon!
There was another gas station on the other side of Semoran Blvd, so I quickly left this rip-off gas station and went over to a similarly large and prosperous gas station opposite (again with very discreet if any pricing signage), expecting that normal prices would surely apply at this other location.
Nope, same prices. Needless to say, like most people when returning their car, I didn’t have the spare time to drive further afield, in an unfamiliar part of town, in search of normal prices, and so I had to swallow my pride and pay $5.80/gallon for gas that should have been costing me $3.75.
As best I could tell, everywhere else for 100 miles around, you pay $3.75 – $3.90 a gallon for regular unleaded gas, but when you get close to the airport and the rental car return depots, the price magically shoots up to $5.80.
That’s not just wrong. That’s exploitive and dishonest in the extreme. Orlando lives or dies by its tourism reputation, and just about every tourist rents a car. Its city fathers need to do something about this appalling exploitation of people returning rental cars.