Highway robbery – service station snacks up to five times more expensive than at a supermarket

Highway robbery – service station snacks up to five times more expensive than at a supermarket
Highway robbery – service station snacks up to five times more expensive than at a supermarket

Drivers are paying up to five times more for some snacks at motorway service stations than they would in a supermarket.

A new investigation into the pricing at service stations around the country has revealed the extent of the rip-off, with drivers paying on average more than twice as much for the same selection of snacks.

The study by Admiral car insurance compared the average price of a basket of snacks at UK supermarkets with the same selection at 21 service stations around the country, finding differences of almost £10 at the worst offending sites.

The mystery shopper exercise gathered prices for a cheese sandwich, refrigerated sausage roll, packet of ready salted Walkers crisps, packet of wine gums, bar of Dairy Milk chocolate, bottle of Coke and bottle of water. It found that motorists are paying on average 117 per cent – £8.03 – more for the same goods compared to a supermarket.

Water rip-off

bottles of water
The biggest mark-up was found on bottled water, which was up to £1.85 more expensive than in a supermarket (Photo: Shutterstock)

Water was the most overpriced item. Beaconsfield services charged an extra £1.85 for a 500ml bottle – the equivalent of a 420 per cent mark-up – and several other locations charged more than 300 per cent more than the average supermarket price of 44p.

However, Durham services was home to the most expensive basket overall. At £16.21 the snack selection cost almost £10 more than the average supermarket price of £6.89.

Lancaster and Woolley Edge services ranked as the joint second most expensive services, both coming in at £16.17 for the same items.

Five most expensive motorway service stations

Rank Service station Region Total basket % difference to supermarket
1 Durham Services A1(M) North East £16.21 135%
=2 Lancaster (Forton) Services M6 North West £16.17 135%
=2 Woolley Edge Services M1 Yorkshire £16.17 135%
=4 Hilton Park Services M6 West Midlands £16.16 135%
=4 Leigh Delamere Services M4 South West £16.16 135%

In contrast, Heart of Scotland services between Edinburgh and Glasgow was the cheapest motorway location, where motorists would spend £9.31 – £2.42 more than the average supermarket.

Overall, Scotland proved to be the cheapest part of the country with an 84 per cent (£5.75) “motorway tax”, while stations in England’s south-west averaged a mark-up of 135 per cent (£9.28), closely followed by the north-east at 129 per cent. (£8.85)

Read more: Britain’s best and worst service stations named

Higher overheads

Operators insist that their prices must be higher due to the extra costs involved in the running of motorway service stations. A Roadchef spokesman told the BBC that service stations incurred extra costs in being open 24 hours a day, and also faced land maintenance and water treatment costs.

motorway service station
Operators say that costs associated with their locations and being open 24 hours force them to charge higher prices (Photo: Shutterstock)

Clare Egan, head of motor product at Admiral, said: “We all expect to pay a little more for convenience, but the amount people are charged at service stations amounts to highway robbery in some cases. Grabbing the essentials from home or at least a supermarket before setting off could result in some big savings on the overall cost of your journey.

“Given the availability of free water refills at all of the service stations and the push to be plastic-free, motorists don’t need to spend anything on bottled water, let alone a forking out as much as 420% more than in a supermarket.

Five least expensive motorway service stations

Rank Service station Region Total basket % difference to supermarket
1 Heart of Scotland Scotland £9.31 35%
2 Leicester Forest East Services M1 East Midlands £12.70 84%
=3 Hartshead Moor Services Yorkshire £13.75 100%
=3 Cardiff Gate Services M4 Wales £13.80 100%
5 Hopwood Park Services West Midlands £14 103%

Fuel prices

The investigation also looked at the cost of fuel at service stations and found an average premium of 14 per cent over the national average.

Researchers found unleaded petrol ranged from 129.9p per litre to 149.9ppl across the 21 service stations, while diesel prices also varied from 131.9ppl 155.9ppl. The current UK averages are 125.6ppl for petrol and 129.5ppl for diesel, according to RAC Fuel Watch.

Of the 21 service stations investigated 14 were offering unleaded petrol at the top price of 149.9ppl and 12 were selling diesel at the most expensive price of 155.9ppl.

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