Why pay for gas? Get it for free

That's the pitch more promoters are using to lure us into their raffles, contests and credit cards.

Published May 6, 2006

TAMPA - Free gas is everywhere if you know where to look.

At schools, car dealerships, parks and even gas stations.

With the price of gasoline hovering around $3 a gallon, it's a valuable promotional and fundraising tool for everyone from innkeepers to PTA presidents.

The St. Petersburg Festival of States is holding a drawing for a $1,000 BP gas card. It's the first time the festival has done a gas promotion, said marketing director Kim Skrovanek. Since mid April, more than 3,000 people have entered the contest online at www.festivalofstates.com

For the third summer in a row, www.bedandbreakfast.com is offering free gas - it's called the "Tanks a Lot" promotion - to people who stay at participating inns.

In Oregon, the Curry County 4H Club is selling raffle tickets for $10. Lucky winners will get gas cards worth $1,000, $500 or $250.

"You want to have a raffle people are really going to want to pay for," Borup said, and even in Oregon, a state known for bike-riding environmentalists, people have to drive, she said. "People are really excited about it."

Last year, the club sold 200 raffle tickets and bumped up the number this year to 499 because it was so popular. The proceeds go to 4H contest winners at the county fair, said 4H program assistant Amanda Borup.

In the Tampa Bay area, WFLZ-FM 93.3 is giving out gas through the MJ morning show. And WTVT-Ch. 13 has the Good Day Gas Giveaway, which offers a $50 Shell gift card to the 13th caller every hour from 5 to 9 a.m.

"It's clear that higher gasoline prices are putting a crimp on family budgets, and we decided we would try to offset that," said station manger Bob Linger, who pays about $60 to fill up the tank of his Mercedes-Benz. "We've had a very positive response to the program."

Gas prices in the Tampa Bay area have dropped about 4 cents a gallon in the past week, said Kevin Blakewell, senior vice president of AAA. Midgrade unleaded averaged $2.88, he said.

AAA offers a credit card with points redeemable for gas with any company. Signups for the card have doubled since it was introduced three years ago, said Blakewell, who recently traded in his sport utility vehicle for a hybrid, cutting his gas costs in half.

At the BP station at the corner of Howard Avenue and Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa, hundreds entered a raffle Thursday and Friday for $25, $50, $75 and $100 gas cards. The tickets were part of a promotion of a BP Visa card - an airline miles card for the new millennium.

Those who sign up automatically get a $5 gas gift card, and another $40 gift of gas comes with the first purchase on the card. Future purchases earn points that can be redeemed for gas - or a donation to the environmental nonprofit Conservation Fund.

It's a companywide campaign, but only some local Radiant stores that sell BP gas will also do raffles, said Joe Rowe, brand manager for Radiant Stores that sell BP.

Anissa McNeil signed up at the Howard Avenue station Thursday.

"I need a card for this summer, and I need gas. I only get paid $8.13 an hour," said McNeil, who works as a secretary at Just Elementary School. "Put that in the paper: $8.13."

Gas prices have become so "ridiculous" she can barely afford to drive her minivan, which she needs to transport her five children.

"You got to have money to get back and forth from work, home, church," she said.

As for that potential $1,000 in gas from the Festival of States, people can register to win at the festival's Kid's Fest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 13 at Vinoy Park. They'll also raffle a surfboard signed by the Beach Boys that day.

Skrovanek can't register for the drawings because she works for the festival. But if she could, she'd go for the gas.

"I love the Beach Boys," she said. "But right now with the way gas prices are, it's going to get me a lot further than the surfboard."