BillShrink, the startup that already helps users save money on cell phone plans and credit cards, has added a tool to find the best station to fill up your gas tank.
Like other features from the Redwood City, Calif. company, the site makes it easy to get gas station recommendations. Afterward, you can drill more deeply into your choices, if you want. The tool is based around your daily commute — you just enter your home address, your work address, the type of car you drive, and how full you fill your tank. Then, BillShrink gives you a list of stations where you should be getting your gas, based on the “true price” of filling up, which combines the savings from lower prices with the cost of the gas burned while driving to a station. You can also set up email updates so that, for example, you receive a message from BillShrink at the beginning of each week recommending where you should fill up, based on changing prices.
As someone who used to spend a lot of time on the road, I can see why a service like this will be appealing — I’ve definitely tried to make my own calculations like, “Is it worth it to detour to the cheaper gas station? But now I live in San Francisco and try to avoid driving at all, so this isn’t much use to me. And after getting both a preview of the gas feature and a general site walk-through from chief executive Peter Pham and Vice President of Product and co-founder Samir Kothari, I’m even more jazzed about their bigger vision. For one thing, Pham and Kothari say that in addition to rolling out the gas feature, they’re also taking the beta testing label off their cell phone and credit card tools.
The phone tool, in particular, has gotten much more powerful because it can now pull your data from your online account, and match your real usage with up-to-date information on coverage and price plans to recommend the best plan for you. (If you’re not comfortable sharing that data, you can just enter general usage estimates, but obviously that’s less accurate, and therefore less useful.) You can also customize the options depending on your interests and constraints — for example, I’m basically locked into AT&T for the next year or so since I bought an iPhone in July, but BillShrink can still help me figure out if I’m on the best iPhone plan for my usage level. And again, the site starts out by giving you a recommendation, then you can click on a plan to see the specific calculations BillShrink made.
The company makes money by striking deals with some of the providers listed on its site — though Pham emphasizes that this doesn’t affect the recommendations at all. (So why would a cell phone company bother paying BillShrink? For one thing, a deal can make the difference between an interested BillShrink user getting sent to a general cell phone home page or a customized page with all their plan options already filled in — obviously, you’re much more likely to complete the purchase in the second case.) And how does that business model transfer to the gas tool, which doesn’t involve online purchases? It doesn’t — Pham says the tool should attract new users, as well as increase activity from existing ones, but he doesn’t plan to make any money from it directly.