The Poor Pilot

frugal flying for student and recreational aviators

Watch your hose!

This Hose reel was serious - got my hand good.

This hose reel was serious – got my hand good.

Saturday I booked a plane at school for my first cross country flight,  and while doing the preflight inspection realized there was only half a tank of gas . I was just about to have the line guys top it off when I remembered there was a way to make money on fuel.  I’m not talking T. Boone Pickens moola here, but if you do this on all of your cross country flights you can help to offset some of the costs of rentals.

So what’s the hustle?  Well when you rent your plane “wet” (fuel included) you get reimbursed at the rate of your home airport for any fuel you purchase elsewhere.   Find an airport where the fuel is $3.74 per gallon, and fuel is $4.41 at your school (like in my case), and you make 67 cents for every gallon you get.

So here’s how you do it:


  1. Verify that your school will actually reimburse you at that rate, if not, you’re  out of luck.
  2. For you iphone/ipad pilots, go on foreflight (it is free for the first 30 days) and select Fuel:100LL and you will see a bunch of prices on the map.  Find the cheapest price in your area, verify they are open and the prices are correct, and you’re good to go.  If you’re way up north in the U.S. and you see those cheap Canadian prices, don’t be fooled, I think those are in liters.    If you don’t have an apple device or you exhausted your 30 day foreflight trial, just ask someone to check the prices for you, or you can find fuel prices with a simple google search.ForeFlight Map Menu 100LLIMG_4061
  3. Plan your flight, and if there are a bunch of planes available at the school, maybe find the one with the least amount of fuel.  Just be sure to do all the proper weight and balance planning and verify that you will have enough fuel to get to where you have to go.
  4. Fly!  Be responsible though.  Be sure to do proper leaning procedures, don’t just run full rich and and full throttle so that you can make another 70 cents.  Proper leaning does more than just save fuel, it helps engines to last longer, keeping maintenance costs down.  This saves much more money in the long run and helps to keep costs down for you, the school, and other pilots.
  5. Land and get some gas.   I think that the cheapest rates are going to be at those self serve stations, so again be safe while taxiing, ground the plane, etc.  This was my first time operating one of these machines and the hose reel was so powerful I banged my hand up pretty good when retracting the nozzle.  If it is full serve, great, go get your Hundred Dollar Hamburger.
  6. Make sure you get your receipt.
  7. Take the plane back and give the school a copy of the receipt, collect your cash, and that’s it.

I only got 16 gallons of gas, so I saved about $10 for a 2 hour flight with a CFI.   So this equated to a 3% discount when compared to the $300 invoice.   The savings would’ve been about 5% if it was a solo flight.  For your private pilot rating you may not have that much cross country time, but you can see how this will add up when you’re working on your commercial rating:

3% savings at $150 an hour (with an instructor) for 250 hours is about $1,125 in savings.

You may see some other savings when filling up too.  Typically landing fees are waived so that helps as well.  Another way to save on this hustle is to do all flight planning on your own, then just go over it with your CFI prior to the flight,  saving you ground training time as well.

Another perk of this  is landing in new airports.   We landed at Bradford County (N27) which is pretty much surrounded by mountains.   This required a tight pattern  which made for an exciting landing and good training for a greenhorn such as myself.

Fly Safe,


P.S. If you stumbled upon this blog somehow –  please comment –  you can introduce yourself, share your savings ideas, yell at me for any bad information, or give me some ideas for future posts.  Any feedback is appreciated.



  1. Hey Tony, great post… I’ve often thought of doing this myself. If you wanted to be even cheaper you could use for fuel prices in the local area and you could set up a credit card with a good reward program just for fuel purchases.

    • Tony

      March 23, 2016 at 4:31 am

      Thanks for letting me know about and the credit card idea is great – I wonder if there is any card that is specific to general aviation that gives better rewards for Avgas

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