Hotels offer gas rebates amid record prices

Hoping to tempt tapped-out travelers to hit the road this summer, the travel industry is offering fuel rebates and dining vouchers.

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By Steve Hargreaves, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Gas prices hit another all-time high of $3.50 a gallon - and that's bad news for businesses that rely on the summer travel season.

Many hotels and inn keepers hope to lure recession-weary customers out of their homes and onto the road this vacation season by offering discounts on gas and food.

The conference and visitor bureau in Costa Mesa, Calif., home to popular Southern California beaches and Disneyland, is offering a $25 gas or airfare rebate for travelers staying at select Orange County hotels, plus a food voucher worth $25 per night, through its "Drive and dine on us" program.

"Everybody's looking for the most value for their dollar, and this is cash in their pocket," said Dan Pittman, a spokesman for the visitor bureau.

Pittman said the program has been running for the last two years, and that last year over 1,300 people took the bureau up on the offer.

Driving season pain

In New Hampshire, the state visitor's bureau has a whole page of "gas saving offers" on its Web site.

They include a gas credit of as much as $50 for drivers headed to the The Highlands Inn in Bethlehem - 25 cents a mile or 30 cents a mile if you drive a hybrid.

And The Inn at Mill Falls in Meredith is offering a gas voucher of $20 per night, good at the local Meredith Mobil station.

The New York State hospitality association is organizing hotels that offer one free night of lodging when two nights are booked.

"One of the reasons people came up with this is because of the high gas prices," said Mark Dorr, a spokesman for the association. "People don't want to drive far from home."

Most hotel chains aren't offering similar discounts - calls to the Marriott (MAR, Fortune 500) and Hilton didn't reveal any special programs.

A spokesman for Choice Hotels, which has over 4,000 properties across the country, said the chain is considering offering customers a $50 gas card after three separate stays - an offer the chain made last year.

Hotels.com also might offer the same discount it did last year - a gas rebate of $30 for any stay of two days or more.

"The fact that we have seen hotels use these things in the past means they must be at least moderately successful," said Mike Pina, a spokesman for the motorist organization AAA.

Expect to see more discounts and rebates as the weather gets warmer. Most will likely come from mom-and-pop operations, like the Arlington Inn in southern Vermont.

Nestled in the state's Green Mountains, and offering hiking, fishing, antiquing and other country diversions, the inn is giving a $25 gas card to visitors who stay during the week.

This is the second year the inn has offered gas cards to attract visitors, most of whom drive from New York, Boston, Montreal and other smaller cities through out the region, said assistant innkeeper Cheryl Write.

She expects at least a few dozen people will take advantage of it this year.

"It's just a nice little incentive to get people to come up," she said.

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