School holiday petrol price hikes a myth, research reveals

Moving Well | Sue Hewitt | Posted on 13 September 2019

New RACV research reveals petrol prices are actually cheaper during school holidays.

Few Victorian motorists will be surprised petrol prices have jumped – after all it’s almost school holidays.

Many believe petrol prices rise just before you pack the kids up for a road trip and remain high during the break. But RACV research shows that fuel prices are lower on average in the lead-up to and during school vacations and public holidays.

Although current petrol prices are fluctuating wildly with differences of up to 50 cents a litre after attacks on Saudi Arabian oil fields, historical data reveals that now is normally a good time to fill up.

Fuel pumps in a row at petrol station

RACV research reveals petrol is cheaper during school holidays.

RACV research looked at fuel prices from 2009 to this week and found the price of a litre of unleaded petrol was on average about one cent cheaper during holiday periods.

The research looked at daily fuel prices over the decade – all up about 4000 individual prices – and averaged out the price over all days, public holidays, school holidays, the lead-up to holidays, non-holiday periods and weekends. 

The overall average price was 133.3 cents per litre which was almost one cent dearer than the two days in the lead-up to a break and the actual holiday period, where it averaged 132.4 cents per litre. Fuel prices on weekends during the same period were on average higher at 133.8.

RACV’s manager of vehicle engineering Michael Case says although the price difference was not huge, it was consistent over a long period and therefore myth-busting. 

“We can now say categorically that fuel prices are on average cheaper during school holiday periods,” Michael says.

The findings, he says, show price trends are not due to random fluctuations but are determined by demand or, in the case of school holidays, lower demand. 

“The consistency of the data suggests that lower fuel prices are driven by an overall lower demand during holiday periods as people do less day-to-day driving,” he says.

“No matter what time of the year, RACV advises motorists to shop around or use a fuel price tracker or app to get the best deal.” 

We can now say categorically that fuel prices are, on average, cheaper during school holiday periods.

Although the research shows that on average petrol prices are cheaper during public and school holidays, there are exceptions.

For example, during the July school holidays this year, petrol prices started at 135.6 cents a litre on Saturday 29 June and rose steadily. Prices peaked at 158.6 on Thursday 4 July and gradually dropped to 133.9 by the end of the holidays on Sunday 14 July.

Current petrol prices are volatile, with price differences of up to 50 cents a litre in areas like Pakenham. Some service stations appear to be using the attack on Saudi oil fields as an excuse to increase prices, despite the Saudis already restoring 50 per cent of lost capacity with an aim to return to 100 per cent production soon.

“Petrol prices are now on an upward trend as part of the new fuel price cycle,” Michael says. “It seems some operators are trying to set a new high price more than $1.70. 

“However, other outlets are still selling unleaded petrol at close to or below the wholesale price ($1.34) so that’s causing huge price differences. Motorists who shop around can save up to $30 a tank.”

For families heading off for the holidays you may be surprised to find petrol can be cheaper in regional Victoria.

RACV’s survey of city and regional fuel prices found the cheapest petrol during 2018-19 was in regional centres like Benalla and Ballarat.

But it is always wise to check the prices before you decide where to fill up.