Last time I travelled in the U.S., gas stations required we enter a Zip-code to pay at the pump. Gas attendants told us because we were Canadian, we couldn't purchase gas with a credit card and required we prepay with cash. How can this be?
So, you've met your first Zip-code-savvy gas pumps. Better get used to them, because they're spreading across the United States.
"It really is a growing trend," says Dave Hunter, author of Along Interstate-75, a popular guide for Florida-bound snowbirds. "It's a real pain."
Billed as an effort to combat "drive off" gasoline theft, these pumps have been spotted by Hunter in the Sunshine State since 2005.
He estimates that 90 per cent of stations in Florida now use the technology.
"This is certainly up and coming," says Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst with GasBuddy.com, a price comparison site. "I'd say in the States that perhaps 15 per cent or less of all stations have the ZIP requirement at this moment. This number will surely rise."
The ZIP-code pump creates hassles for Canadians as it requires drivers to prepay, which makes it hard to accurately top up, and creates headaches trying to get a few dollars back if you overestimate. Canucks can prepay with cash, of course, but that means stuffing your wallet with greenbacks. Or you can leave a credit card with the attendant before filling up – but that's not ideal.
Here are some suggestions from Hunter to game the system:
If you're a twosome, send one person into the office while the other waits at the pump. Then text or radio your partner when the pump is ready to go. "Very often, just the presence of somebody in the store holding the credit card is enough to get the pump initiated," says Hunter, who has led an uphill battle to find an easier solution.
Get a U.S. debit card. Suitable for snowbirds or frequent cross-border travellers, gas money can be deposited in the U.S. account and if a minimum balance is maintained, transaction fees are limited. Hunter says that, in his experience, most pumps accept debit cards. (A Canadian debit card may work too, but could lead to some mighty bank fees.)
Some suggest using the numbers from your postal code, plus 0s or 9s, in place of a ZIP code. This can be hit or miss, Hunter cautions.
If you're heading for Florida, consult Hunter's website: i75online.com (search "on the road"). The travel journalist and snowbird keeps a reader-produced list of pumps friendly to Canadian credit cards.
E-mail your travel questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Karan Smith on Twitter: @karan_smith.
Special to The Globe and Mail