How $100 oil would cost you

Brace for record gas prices before the holidays and higher airfares.

Subscribe to Economy
google my aol my msn my yahoo! netvibes
Paste this link into your favorite RSS desktop reader
See all RSS FEEDS (close)
By Steve Hargreaves and Keisha Lamothe, staff writers

NEW YORK ( -- Even if the price of oil doesn't breach the $100 mark, its recent rise will soon start to bite - at the pump, the airline ticket counter and possibly in your home.

The price of a barrel of oil has pulled back in recent days, but even at a current $96, gas prices could soon top their all-time record from last May of $3.22 a gallon.

"There's no doubt, gasoline prices are rocketing higher," said Stephen Schork, publisher of the industry newsletter the Schork Report. "By Christmas, we could be paying more for gas than we were during the start of the summer driving season."

Gas prices rose 14 cents last week and now average $3.04 a gallon nationwide, according to AAA. Many states have had gas over $3 for some time.

In the past few months, drivers have gotten off easy - gas prices hadn't kept up with the increase in oil prices. The main reason: Demand has been fairly tame.

But now, demand is set to pick up into the holiday season.

At the same time, supplies of gas could get tight as many U.S. refiners are undergoing maintenance, according to Schork. And they stand ready to decrease production if gas prices don't move higher, according to Kevin Norrish, a commodities analyst at Barclays in London.

"The relative price of gasoline is low, and that's unsustainable," said Norrish.

As for next spring, when gas prices usually spike on anticipation of increased demand over the summer, Schork noted that in all likelihood we'll be going into the season with much less in gasoline inventories than last year.

"You're that much closer to $4" a gallon gasoline, he said.

Expensive flights

Higher oil prices also mean higher airfare for travelers. As the price of crude rises, jet fuel prices also increase.

Last week, American Airlines - the nation's biggest carrier - raised the price of U.S. round-trip tickets by $20, and other major airlines followed suit.

American said it increased fares in an attempt to offset losses from rising crude oil and jet fuel prices.

The Air Transport Association (ATA), the airline industry's main trade group, announced last week that higher fuel prices drove second-quarter costs 5.6 percent higher. That's more than twice the rate during the same period last year.

"Jet fuel has been going up consistently for the last 3 to 4 years to the point where it's affecting the airlines bottom line," said Will Alibrandi, an analyst for the aviation market analysis firm Forecast International. "Any cost gets returned to the customer, so they've been bumping up ticket prices to make up the difference," he said.

Heating up a bit

Rising oil prices could also mean higher heating bills for those who use oil - mostly that means households in the Northeast, or about 7 percent of the country.

For them, oil's rise will be particularly painful: a 22 percent increase in bills from last year, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The rest of the country doesn't face such steep increases, but they won't exactly get a free ride.

Roughly 50 percent of the country uses natural gas to heat their homes. And while natural gas prices aren't tied directly to the price of crude, those who use natural gas could see a 10 percent increase in home-heating bills.

Norrish expects natural gas prices to rise only modestly in the near future.

People who heat with electricity, about 30 percent of the nation, can expect to pay 4 percent more.

The bigger picture

One fear is that higher gas prices will lift the costs to transport all goods, whether by truck, ship or plane - and that manufacturers and retailers will respond by raising prices for consumers.

But economists say that's unlikely.

While costs to business have risen, cost for consumer goods have not posted a corresponding increase, said Drew Matus, a senior economist at Lehman Brothers.

"We haven't seen an impact," said Matus. "It's just not as significant as the shock value suggests."

As for consumer spending, Matus said high gas prices haven't had much of an impact as gasoline generally doesn't make up a huge chunk of people's disposable income.

"I think energy prices would have to be much higher in order for them to have an impact on consumer behavior," he said. To top of page

Photo Galleries
5 radical technologies that will change how you get to work From Uber's flying cars to the Hyperloop, these are some of the neatest transportation concepts in the works today. More
Royal wedding: How much will it cost? Meghan Markle's wedding to Prince Harry could cost millions once security is included in the bill. See how the costs break down. More
Robot co-workers? 7 cool technologies changing the way we work Experts believe humans and machines will work much more closely together. More