Now, before you start to feel sorry for us poor Americans who are forced to pay such exorbitant prices for gas…we don’t. For members of the US military (or civilians working for the military) stationed in Europe, they have what we call “gas coupons”. The way these coupons work is that the American exchange service takes an average of what gas in the US costs per gallon, and this is what we are supposed to pay for coupons. The coupons come in books of 100 – 200 liters, and each book is divided into coupons in the amount of 5, 10, or 20 liters. The gas coupons are a rationed item as well. The normal allotment is 300 liters per month. However, if you have a vehicle with an engine over a certain size then you’re allowed 400. For one vehicle, 300 liters is usually more than enough, but it’s a problem for some families who have two cars. Even if both the husband and wife drive their own car, you still only receive 300 liters a month. When you register a car on base, they give you a gas card that you bring to the PX (base department store) to keep on file. When you want to buy coupons, you go to the PX, give them your ID card and they pull your gas card to tell you how many liters you have available that month. If you don’t use the full 300 liters each month, you lose them. In other words, they don’t carry over to the next month and accumulate. On the first of every month, you have 300 available and that’s it. However, you have a year to use them, so even if you don’t need them, you can buy the full 300 liters each month and hold on to them. At the end of the year, you are allowed to sell back whatever coupons you didn’t use for a full refund. It’s a good program.
Getting back to the price, it fluctuates throughout the year. I’m not exactly sure, but I believe they survey the US average quarterly and adjust the price of the coupons accordingly. So the cost may go up or down, depending on how the prices in the US are doing. To give you an example, earlier this year, 100 liters of unleaded coupons cost $71.00. Then, on June 1st, the cost of 100 liters went down to $66.00. They usually announce a price change a few weeks ahead of time so you can plan accordingly. For instance, if they say 100 liters is going up to $70.00, then most people will go buy as much as they can now at $66.00.
Where can you use the gas coupons? Not every gas station accepts them. To the best of my knowledge, the only gas stations in Italy that accept them are Esso and Agip. The ones that accept them have worked out a deal with the US agency that controls them, and must accept them everywhere. So if Agip has agreed, then every Agip in Italy must accept them. The only thing is, you can only use them in Italy. So if you’re driving through Switzerland or Austria, you’d better fill up right before you hit the border. Germany, England, the Netherlands, and Spain all have coupons too, but they’re each only accepted in the respective countries. In other words, you can’t use German coupons in Italy and vice versa.
Two welcome sights to American drivers in Italy
To use them, you pull up to the gas station, pump your gas, and fill out the coupons in whatever amount you used. You have to write the date, your license plate number, and signature on them. This is used to track them in case there is a suspicion of fraud.
Gas coupons, as you can imagine, are a hot commodity here since gas is so expensive. Italy has a major problem with vehicle break-ins and petty theft, and one of the main causes is gas coupons. I can almost guarantee you that if you park your car and have gas coupons in plain sight, your car will get broken into. I keep mine locked up in the glove compartment. It’s common sense – although only 60-70 bucks for Americans, a book of 100 liters is worth over 100 euros (about $130) to an Italian. Many Italians ask me if they can buy some coupons from me, but this is strictly forbidden. If you got caught doing this, it’s considered black marketing and you face severe consequences.
Some of the bigger bases in Europe have gas stations right on them and there is no need for coupons. On our base, there is no gas station, so we rely on them. Many people constantly complain that despite the cheaper cost of the coupons, we’re still getting screwed because we’re paying slightly more than the US average. But as for me, I don’t mind. It’s still better than paying Italian prices, and besides, it’s a small price to pay for the opportunity to live in Bella Italia…