Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few months, you are keenly aware that gas prices have been surging. In fact, according to a recent CNBC article, gas prices could top $5 a gallon this summer! No one would blame you if you're looking for new ways to save on gas.
If reading that news shocks and depresses you, perhaps the tips below on how to leverage gas reward credit card programs can bring you some hope. There’s never been a better time to jump on the "gas rebate bandwagon."
Is a gas rewards card worth it?
In a word, yes. Let's do some quick math.
It’s possible to earn 5% cash back when filling up by simply using a top gas rewards credit card. In that case, if you spend the $5,000 a year on gas, which is the average amount spent by American households according to CNBC, you would earn $250 in annual rebates.
While this doesn't eliminate all of your pain at the pump, you would earn $1,000 in cash rebates every four years just on gas purchases; moreover, you can earn additional rebates when you utilize simple strategies that allow you to "double-dip" (more on this below).
The bottom line is that the rewards are real and you stand to benefit from a competitive credit card marketplace.
Step 1: Save on gas with a rewards credit card
Shopping for a new gas rewards card has never been easier.
There are hundreds of credit cards out there that offer rebates at the pump – in fact, basically every card will offer at least 1% back at the pump (but you can do much better than that). As a result, picking the best gas rewards credit card can seem daunting.
Here are a few tips to make the process virtually pain free:
Consider the whole card, not just the gas rewards. In other words, don't get so focused on how much cash back you can earn on gas purchases that you ignore other card benefits or downsides, explains Andrea Norris-McKnight, the editor of The Dollar Stretcher and After 50 Finances. For instance, if a card has an annual fee, do the math to ensure your rewards earning will make it worth carrying the card.
The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, for instance, earns an attractive 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations, but has a $95 annual fee (See Rates and Fees; terms apply; American Express is a CardRatings advertiser). This card offers other benefits and rewards that may more than justify the fee, but do the math to make sure this offer makes good financial sense for you.
Pay attention to rebate limits or caps. Some offers don't limit the amount you can earn, which is obviously ideal. However, many offers do have caps. One card, for example, might pay an impressive 5% cashback rewards on gas purchases, but limit how much you can purchase before the cash back rate drops to only 1%.
In comparison, a card such as the Citi® Double Cash Card (my personal fave that I've used for many years) that pays a flat 2% in cash back on all purchases (1% when you make your purchase and another 1% when you pay for it) and doesn’t have a spending limit could save you more in the long run. (Citi is a CardRatings advertiser)
Is simple better for you? Complicated programs with caps or that offer varying rebate percentages based on spending might result in higher earning, but they are harder to manage. If you prefer simple, there’s still solid rewards to be earned on a flat-rate rewards card.
If your current card only earns 1% or 2% on gas purchases, you’re likely leaving money on the table. There are cards that offer significantly higher rewards (think 3-5%). Now is a great time to comparison shop.
Step 2: Double-dip to save on gas
Combine your rewards credit card with another rebate program to really cash in.
Several popular cash rebate apps allow you to earn cash rebates at the pump in addition to the rewards you earn using a gas rewards credit card. It’s a strategy known as “stacking” or “double-dipping.”
Both apps allow you to pay with your card of choice, so you earn credit card rewards in addition to the rewards you earn through the app for each gas purchase. Just make sure you closely follow the app rebate rules in order to receive your rewards.
In addition, some gas stations also offer a discount per gallon when you use their branded mobile app, and many don't require that you use the station's branded credit card to make the purchase.
For example, the Shell App allows Shell customers to earn an extra $.05 per gallon in Fuel Rewards when you use the Shell app to purchase at least five gallons four times within a 30-day period. Moreover, you can link most U.S. credit cards to the Shell app and still earn your normal credit card rewards.
My friend Srikan described the below double-dipping strategy that helps him save on gas.
He uses his Shell Fuel Rewards Card (not the same as the app) to earn $.05/gallon in Fuel Rewards on every fill-up. He also downloaded the Upside app, which saved him almost $30.00 on his first two fill-ups. Finally, he uses GasBuddy to find the cheapest gas in his town.
But the real "double-dipping magic" happens when Srikan combines the above savings with his Discover it® Cash Back card, which offers him 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in categories that rotate quarterly (activation required). Traditionally, “gas stations” has been a 5% category during at least one quarter a year. In quarters when that’s not the case, he uses his Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card that offers up to 3% cash back on gas purchases (it also currently offers an impressive $200 online cash-back bonus when you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days).
I don't recommend everyone carry multiple credit cards, but if you're disciplined in your spending having more than one rewards card can help max out your rewards on gas and your other spending, too.
The popular GasBuddy app doesn’t allow you to use your choice of gas rebate credit cards within the app; however, you can still maximize your savings by using the app to locate the cheapest gas and then pay at the pump with your own gas rebate card.
Gas rebate cards used in conjunction with other discount programs can make a significant dent in your monthly fuel bill. The other good news is that after the initial app set-up, it doesn't require much time to use a rewards card with a discount app.
I recently downloaded the Upside app and it only took a few minutes to set everything up, including adding my favorite rewards card. I was also pleasantly surprised to see the restaurant I took my daughter to earlier this week also offers a 15% cash-back deal through the app.
The bottom line is even if you just use a rewards card by itself, you can save on gas (and other purchases else), which can be addictive and lessen the pain we’re all feeling.
I sincerely hope these tips are helpful to you and would love your feedback on how you've been able to leverage gas rebate offers and apps to your advantage. Who knows, I may include a tip from you in a future article!
Have fun this summer saving at the pump!
See Rates and Fees; terms apply of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express