Comparing Ames gas prices to nearby towns


Dylan Mescher

Gas prices advertised on the top of the Hy-Vee gas overhang located in Ames, Iowa on March 27.

Eleven miles. That is the distance between two Iowa towns with a consistent price difference of more than 20 cents per gallon for gas.

Gas sold in Ames can often be more expensive than in neighboring towns, which can be attributed to Ames’ population size and the supply and demand created by college residents.

Super unleaded gas in Ames was commonly priced at $3.39 per gallon at Casey’s, Kum & Go and Phillips 66 on March 28. At the same time, gas at a Kum & Go in Huxley cost $3.16, roughly 11 miles away.

Ankeny, located roughly 27 miles away, also commonly sells their gas at a lower price. On Dec. 12, 2022 gas was 50 cents cheaper than in Ames, according to information obtained from the GasBuddy website. However, their prices can still match up to Ames depending on the day. Ankeny’s gas was set at the same price as Ames on March 28.

For some people, traveling to save on gas is worth the extra drive time.

“I have the time, so if I have the time, I’m gonna get my gas in Ankeny,” said Claire Moore, an Ames resident. “It puts more miles on my car, but I just think getting gas somewhere cheaper is better.”

For many others, the amount of money saved is not worth the extra time commitment.

Alec Torres, a senior studying environmental engineering, will only get gas out of town when he is already planning to be traveling. If he needs gas while in Ames, his go-to station is Phillips 66.

“[The money] will add up, but for me I’m usually in a rush because I’m pretty busy, so I’ll just eat the extra 20 cents or whatever it is,” Torres said. “If I have to eat it, I’ll eat it; it’s better than nothing.”

Others are able to find deals in Ames through stores who offer special deals for shopping with them.

Wholesale retailers who require a membership to purchase their gas, such as Sam’s Club and Costco, often have the cheapest prices available. The Sam’s Club located in Ames sold gas for $3.05 on March 28.

Hy-Vee also offers a program for cheaper gas. Hy-Vee Fuel Saver card members can earn discounts for Hy-Vee and Casey’s gas by buying Hy-Vee fuel saver items from their store.

“I shop Hy-Vee enough that I can usually save $1 per gallon, which is really nice,” Joseph Arthur, a junior studying sociology, said. “Ironically, though, if you don’t have a Fuel Saver card, I think you’d want to avoid Casey’s and Hy-Vee gas stations because sometimes I think they’re a little more expensive.”

Another factor to consider is that Hy-Vee’s groceries are often more expensive than Walmart and Target, which were both selected as price leaders in a 2022 ranking from Consumers’ Checkbook.

Arthur typically shops at Hy-Vee because he receives a 10% employee discount on all groceries.

Even when time is not a factor, people tend to go to the gas station closest to them. This allows gas stations in high traffic areas to set their prices higher without losing a substantial amount of customers to nearby towns with cheaper prices.

“For a lot of people, it’s just about the convenience factor,” Moore said. “They’re gonna go to the nearest gas station that’s around them just because it’s there.”

Many factors impact the price of gas, which is why it often fluctuates nationally and locally.

“No matter where you are, you notice the gas prices not only in the city you’re in but the area around you,” Chad Hart, an economics professor, said. “You’re always gonna notice these weird patterns that certain places are always lower than others.”

Bigger cities and towns see a larger gas demand, which means prices tend to be higher in urban areas, according to Hart. Ames has an estimated population of 67, 919, according to World Population Review, compared to 4, 430 in Huxley.

With a population of 72, 347, Ankeny surpasses Ames. However, Ankeny also houses the headquarters of Casey’s, one of the Midwest’s largest chain convenience stores.

“It might make sense that [Casey’s] keeps gas a little cheaper [in Ankeny] to keep themselves happy at corporate,” Hart said. “As a result, that can sort of adjust prices around that area.”

The prices at chain stores like Casey’s, Kum & Go and Kwik Star are set by their corporate headquarters, according to Hart. However, the prices these stores set can influence the smaller businesses around them.

“[Gas stations] want to be competitive with whoever’s around them,” Hart said. “They’re often located so close together that they have to.”

Gas stations will often look at others around them before setting their own prices. Charging a price that is too far above their neighbors can earn them less money than simply charging a lower price.

Kwik Star and Hy-Vee did not answer any requests for an interview, and Casey’s and Kum & Go declined via email to comment about their prices.

“It’s the competition that makes [gas stations] be very tight about pricing,” Hart said. “In order to try to gain any sort of advantage, they want to keep their pricing mechanism as close to them as possible, so the other side can’t take advantage of that.”

In Ames, gas stations often sell gas at the same price. Casey’s, Hy-Vee, Phillips 66 and Kum & Go all sold their gas for $3.39 in Ames on March 28. This fuels many people to theorize the gas stations collaborate together.

“My favorite is that there is a grand conspiracy in Ames that all the gas stations are colluding to keep prices up,” said anonymous Reddit user doggbyte79 in a thread about Ames gas. “I don’t think there is any truth to that at all but it makes me giggle every time someone brings it up.”

The time of year is also a factor gas stations consider. For many towns, gas prices shoot up in the summer because people are more likely to travel and require more trips to the pump. Prices also increase around travel-heavy holidays, such as Christmas and the Fourth of July.

“In Ames, it’s a little different because most students go back home for the summer, which causes the population to drop,” Hart said. “You don’t see as much pressure on gasoline prices here in the summer because we’re a smaller town.”

Arthur worked in Ames in summer 2022 but drove back home to Des Moines each night. He noticed Ames gas was typically 20 cents cheaper than other towns in June and July.

While setting prices, gas stations also look at the cost of the next tanker of gas that they need to supply themselves with.

Many people believe demand will have an immediate impact on gas prices. This is untrue, according to Hart, because gas stations look at how much their next tanker of gas will cost, rather than how much revenue their current tanker of gas earned them, which causes a large delay between the supply and demand of gas.

“Demand definitely matters, but it’s really hard for consumers to organize in order to truly influence gas prices,” Hart said. “It’s hard to set up a movement, and even if you do, the question would be ‘do you do it long enough to truly impact pricing?’”

Many TikTok users in the U.S. attempted to organize a gas strike to lower gas prices across the country in the summer of 2022. The success or failure of this strike was controversial, but many users believed in its cause.

Though Moore will always get her gas in Ankeny regardless of what others do, she hopes Ames may lower its gas prices if other people continually travel out of town for cheaper prices.

“The larger question is ‘do you want to save more money or time?’” Hart said. “Oftentimes, that translates into ‘time is also worth money,’ but there is no right or wrong answer.”