Gasoline cards can save you some serious cash, especially if you or your family spend a lot of time at the pump. The variety and complexity gasoline credit and rewards cards available today makes it tough to pick a card that's right for you. Don't worry, we'll break down the choices and help you find the perfect card that makes saving money easy.
Gasoline cards fall into four categories:
Branded credit cards allowing fuel purchases only
Branded credit cards offering rewards for non-fuel purchases
Gas rewards/loyalty cards that are not credit cards
Non-branded credit cards that offer occasional points for fuel purchases
|Card Type||Credit Card?||Valid at any gas station?||Valid at non-fuel purchases?|
|Branded fuel-only credit cards|
|Branded gas credit cards with rewards for general purchases|
|General credit cards with gas purchase rewards|
|Branded loyalty cards|
If this is your first credit card, then consider either a general credit card that offers rewards, or a gas credit card that's a part of the Visa, MasterCard, or American Express network so that you can use the card anywhere.
If you have a hard time controlling your spending, then look closely at fuel-only cards.
If you're a shopper who uses a credit card often, then look at general rewards cards that offer high cash-back amounts on gas purchases at certain times of the year.
If you already have a cash-back credit card and want to double-up on the points you earn, or you use a debit card to buy fuel, then look at rewards-only cards. Read on to learn more about the strengths and shortcomings of each card type.
Types of Gas Cards
You have three general types of credit cards to choose from to earn rewards. There are two tricks to picking the card that's right for you. First, you need to find a card offer that fits your spending. The second is to make sure you pay the full balance every month so that interest charges do not eat up your rewards.
Branded Gasoline-Only Credit Cards
Branded gasoline-only credit cards are a great way to save money on fuel while avoiding the pitfalls of a general credit card. You can use branded credit cards at gas stations displaying that brand but nowhere else. For example, you can use an Exxon/Shell card at Exxon and Shell stations, but not at BP stations.
You need a separate gas-only card for each brand you frequent if you purchase fuel at a variety of stations. It's frustrating to carry yet another card in your wallet, but by carrying a fuel-only card, you can't use the card for impulse, non-gas purchases.
3 Advantages of Gas-Only Credit Cards
Saving money on your gas purchases is the biggest advantage of gas-only cards. All you have to do is remember to use your branded credit card and you'll be rewarded with cheaper gas after the rewards or rebate is credited to your account.
You can keep track of fuel purchases in one place easily. If you use your card for all fuel purchases, you'll see if you're sticking to your gas budget for the month without having to subtract out non-fuel purchases from your statement.
Some gas-only cards come with a quick pay feature. These allow you to pay by simply tapping your wallet or purse containing the credit card to a spot on the gas pump. This feature can save time when you're running late to work or an appointment.
3 Disadvantages of Gas-Only Credit Cards
You can't use one credit card for all purchases. Since you must carry a separate card for general non-fuel purchases, this can be a major disadvantage for anyone who has a wallet or purse that is already bursting at the seams.
You can only use the card at the oil brand's gas stations. If the best deal on gas isn't always at the same brand gas station as your branded gasoline-only credit card, you won't be able to earn your rewards or you must sign up for another brand's card.
Rewards or rebates can be limited. Few branded gasoline-only credit cards offer unlimited rewards or rebates. In fact, some cards will limit your rewards at a low level, such as a maximum annual credit of just $72 per year.
Annual Cost of Gas-Only Credit Cards
Assuming you pay your balance off in full each month, the only cost you should have is the annual fee the card charges, if applicable.
Dissecting a Gasoline-Only Card Offer
Here is how a credit card issuer might pitch a gas-only credit card offer at you:
Save 6¢ off per gallon up to 100 gallons every qualifying month with a minimum purchase of 45 gallons of Oil Company-branded fuel in a month.*
Pay at the pump or in store at more than 10,000 Oil Company-branded gas stations
Flexible payment terms - choose a billing date that's convenient for you
Track fuel costs - an easy-to-read monthly statement itemizes your purchases
Free Speedpass key tag - so you don't need to pull your Clever Card out of your wallet to pay
Enjoy ATM cash access with your Clever Card (cash advance fees apply)
You will save 6 cents per gallon purchased as long as you buy 45 gallons of the oil brand's gas in a month. The 6 cents off per gallon is limited to 100 gallons per month.
Although this card doesn't have an introductory offer, many cards offer a limited time rebate or bonus if you meet certain requirements.
Gas-only cards allow you to buy gas at the oil company's branded gas stations. Additionally, there may be limitations to the amount of savings you can earn. For instance, this offer limits your 6 cents per gallon savings to the first 100 gallons purchased in each month.
Branded gasoline-only credit cards rarely carry an annual fee. This card does not mention a fee, so check the fine print to learn if a fee will be charged in future years.
Branded Gas Credit Cards With Rewards for General Purchases
Oil companies partner with credit card issuers to create Visa, MasterCard, and American Express cards that carry the oil company's name and logo. This allows you to use these credit cards everywhere. In fact, some of these cards will require you to make non-gas station purchases to maximize the amount of gas rewards you can earn.
Fuel rewards apply to the branded gas stations listed on the credit card. Although you can make purchases at other gas stations if you're in a pinch, you won't get the savings the credit card offers on those purchases.
3 Advantages of Branded General-Purpose Credit Cards
Many branded general-purpose credit cards with rewards for general purchases will allow you to earn more rewards for gas than a gasoline-only credit card because you have the opportunity to spend more money on general purchases.
You can make purchases anywhere with these cards. Thankfully, you can slim down your wallet or purse because you won't have to carry different credit cards to make different types of purchases. You could even make purchases at other branded gas stations if you're travelling far away from home.
The credits or points you earn may be transferable to airline miles, hotel nights, and so on.
3 Disadvantages of Branded General-Purpose Credit Cards
Gas rewards are limited to the brands specified by the credit card. You can't shop around for the absolute lowest priced gas in your area. However, the rewards may make up the difference in the lower advertised pump price at competing stations.
You could be tempted to spend more money than you budget to save a few dollars on gas. When cards reward you for spending more on general purchases, it's easy to turn spending into a game to earn more rewards. It is nonsense to spend $1,000 you wouldn't have spent to save $20 on gas.
If you carry a balance due to the additional purchases allowed, your interest will likely cost more than the rewards you earn. Fuel credit cards normally have higher-than-average interest rates so consumers that carry a balance indirectly pay for the rewards diligent consumers earn.
Most branded general-purpose credit cards don't carry an annual fee. Some high-rewards cards carry an annual fee.
Dissecting a Branded General-Purpose Credit Card Offer
Fuel credit cards can vary greatly as far as rewards go. Here is a sample card offer an issuer might advertise.
Earn fuel credits on Oil Company fuel purchases and Visa Spend Fuel Credits on qualifying purchases made out side of fuel merchants.
Plus, each 10 cents per gallon in fuel credits when you spend $300 outside of fuel merchants each month
Or, each 20 cents per gallon in fuel credits when you spend $1,000 outside of fuel merchants each month
No annual fee.
This card offers 3 cents per gallon in fuel credits for every fill-up, every time. However, you can earn additional fuel credits. If you spend $300 at outside merchants each month you'll earn an addition 10 cents per gallon in fuel credits. If your spending reaches $1,000 at outside merchants each month, you can add another 20 cents per gallon in fuel credits for a total reward of 33 cents per gallon.
Currently, this card offers a 10 cent per gallon in fuel credits for all purchases made at the oil brand's gas stations. This offer is limited to the first 60 days. After the first 60 days, you must qualify for the 10 cent per gallon in fuel credits based on your general purchases.
The footnote to this credit card offer states that you are limited to only earning $300 in fuel credits per year. If you earn the maximum fuel credit bonus of 33 cents per gallon each month, your rewards are limited to 909 gallons of fuel per year.
This offer states there is no annual fee for the regular version of the card. The premium version carries a $25 annual fee.
Fuel Rewards Cards
If you're looking for a way to earn fuel rewards without applying for a credit card, you're in luck. Rewards cards, which are also called loyalty cards, offer the cash-back benefits of credit cards. Rewards cards allow you to double-up on your rewards. For example, you can use your fuel rewards card and a credit card that offers cash-back for fuel purchases to earn points on your rewards card and rewards on your credit card.
3 Advantages of Fuel Rewards Cards
You don't need good (or any!) credit for approved. Luckily, these cards normally only require you to give your address and phone number to sign up. In fact, you can sign up for as many of these cards as you want and doing so won't show up on your credit history or hurt your credit score at all.
Loyalty cards are almost always free. Oil companies want to remove any barriers to signing up for these cards so you'll become regular customers of their brand of gas station.
You can double dip on fuel rewards. Since fuel rewards cards are not payment cards, you can earn points paying with cash or a debit card. You can double your rewards by using a rewards credit card. Just remember to use the proper branded card for the gas station you visit.
3 Disadvantages of Fuel Rewards Cards
Loyalty card rewards aren't rich. The oil companies make money based on your purchases only, unlike with credit cards where the issuers earn money from interest on unpaid balances. This means oil companies have little incentive to provide much value to fuel rewards card users.
Rewards can be harder to use. Fuel rewards cards may have to be scanned to earn or use points. This means making a special trip inside the gas station to earn or use your rewards. Some gas stations do have scanners on the pumps, but they aren't widely available yet.
Clever rewards card issuers use the information they gather about your purchase habits to try to sell you products or services you don't need. This might be a source of irritation to you depending on your tolerance for being the target of marketing pitches.
Dissecting a Fuel Rewards Card Offer
Take a look at this example of how an oil company might try to sell you on signing up for a fuel rewards card.
Earn 10¢ off per gallon for every $100 you spend on Oil Company
Free to join — not a credit card
Redeem earned rewards at the pump at participating Oil Company locations
When you sign up for this card, you'll have the opportunity to earn 10 cents off per gallon for every $100 you spend on this oil company's fuel.
While some fuel rewards cards have an introductory offer to entice you to sign up, this card does not appear to have an introductory offer advertised at this time.
The 10 cents off per gallon rewards can be used only a single time for one transaction. The reward is limited to 20 gallons of fuel, so your rewards are limited to $2 per $100 spent on fuel. Rewards expire 365 days after they are earned.
Fuel rewards cards, the non-credit card type, rarely ever carry any fees. However, you should always read the fine print to be sure.
General Credit Cards With Gas Purchase Rewards
Some credit cards offer rewards on fuel without being branded by an oil company. These cards can offer rewards both for gas station purchases and other general purchases. Often, these cards have tiered categories for earning rewards.
For instance, one card may offer 6% cash back on groceries, 3% cash back on gas and 1% cash back on everything else. Alternatively, some cards may offer bonus cash back on gas during a period of the year. A card may offer 5% cash back on gas from July through September and 1% cash back the other nine months of the year.
3 Advantages of General Credit Cards With Gas Purchase Rewards
You can earn rewards that save you money on things other than just gas purchases. While saving on gas is awesome, chances are you spend much more money on other purchases. General credit cards with gas rewards give you the best of both worlds and let you earn rewards everywhere.
There are many general credit cards with gas purchase rewards so you can find the perfect card for you. The large selection should allow you to find a card that best fits your spending. This maximizes the value of the rewards you earn for purchases of gas and other items.
You can use general credit cards at any gas station and save money regardless of the gas brand you buy. If you really love to find the cheapest gas in town, these cards will allow you to save both on the pump price and in the form of rewards.
3 Disadvantages of General Credit Cards With Fuel Rewards
The massive number of general credit cards offering gas rewards could easily cause analysis paralysis. However, if you never apply for a credit card that offers gas rewards, you'll never start earning or redeeming the rewards you should be earning for the money you already spend.
Rewards can often be confusing. Different credit card companies offer different rewards programs. Some will give you cash back in the form of a check while others require you to request a statement credit. Some will only allow you to redeem your rewards for gift cards.
Some rewards are very complicated to redeem. If your credit card is a travel credit card, you may have to deal with blackout dates or other restrictions in order to redeem your rewards. Not all programs are confusing, but those that are could stop you from cashing in your rewards.
Many general credit cards with gas rewards have annual fees to help pay for their awesome rewards. However, some cards have no annual fee.
Dissecting a General Rewards Credit Card Offer
Consider this example of how a credit card company may try to get you to sign up for a general rewards credit card offer.
6% cash back at US supermarkets up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%).
3% cash back at US gas stations and select U.S. department stores.
1% cash back on other purchases.
$75 annual fee
This card offers cash back in the form of rebates that can be used as statement credits. You'll earn 3% cash back on gas station purchases, as well as at select department stores. You'll earn 6% cash back for supermarket purchases and 1% cash back on all other purchases.
You can take advantage of a 0% introductory Annual Percentage Rate (APR) on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months. Additionally, you can earn a sign up bonus of $150 in rebates if you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first three months of card membership.
The fine print states that the 6% cash back at supermarkets is limited to the first $6,000 spent at supermarkets each year. However, there are no stated cash back limits on the 3% cash back on gas and department stores or 1% cash back on all other purchases categories.
This card comes with an annual fee of $75 per year. However, if you'll earn much more than $75 in rewards, this card could easily be worth it.
10 Items to Remember When Choosing a Gas Credit Card
Be realistic when comparing gas credit card offers, and compare these 10 factors when comparing your card options.
The higher the rate of reward, the more money is returned to your pocket.
If you do not pay your balance off in full each month, which we strongly recommended, you could easily negate any rewards you earn. As a general rule of thumb, always try to secure the lowest interest rate possible when getting a line of credit.
Make sure you determine the amount of rewards you anticipate receiving each year. If it is less than your annual fee, it's best to choose a different reward card that will prove profitable in terms of rewards.
For high-mileage drivers, a cap on earning potential can be a real deterrent. Calculate the amount you spend on gas annually before committing to a card. Also consider getting more than one card if you want to maximize your earnings.
Cash back on other spending, sign-up bonuses, and so on can drastically increase your rewards earning potential. Find the card that most closely aligns with your spending habits.
The most important thing to consider when choosing a gas rewards card is the net amount of rewards you'll accumulate. To calculate this, figure out how much you earn from your normal spending habits and subtract out any fees that might apply to you, such as annual fees. This helps you to determine if an annual fee card or a no annual fee card works better for you.
Make sure you aren't including gas rewards in your calculations. Purchases made at other locations can earn rewards on general credit cards with gas rewards. It may make sense to get a general credit card with gas rewards if you aren't already earning cash back on your other purchases.
FICO score, travel assistance, and other perks should be taken into less consideration than cold hard cash. However, perks can help you choose if you're on the fence between two otherwise equal cards. If you need to monitor your credit score but don't have the budget to pay for a monitoring service, or if you frequently travel, cards with perks you can use will serve you better than others.
While you're accumulating rewards, make sure you won't hit limitations imposed by card issuers. Some cards limit cash back while others limit how many gallons of fuel your rewards cover. If issuers limit your cash back to $300 per year, make sure your calculations don't assume cash rewards.
Don't forget to consider the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) if you don't pay your card in full each month. Don't make a habit of carrying a balance on these cards. They normally come with higher interest rates than your typical credit card. Any interest paid will quickly deplete any rewards you earn.
2014 Fuel Purchases & Rewards By the Numbers
Glossary: Key Terms to Know When Gas Card Shopping
A fee that must be paid on an annual basis to obtain or keep a card. Not all credit cards have these fees.
An interest rate calculated on an annual basis that can be compared between different cards. There may be different APRs for different types of transactions.
Credit cards offering rewards for gasoline purchases that can require you to make purchases elsewhere to increase gas rewards earned.
Credit cards offering fuel rewards for one oil brand at gas stations can only be used for gas purchases at that oil brand's station./p>
A list of your credit history, including lines of credit and late payment history, used in calculating a credit or FICO score.
How long the rewards last before they expire. Some have very short lives, so know the shelf-life of your cards points so you're not surprised later.
Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) is a proprietary credit scoring model. It uses your credit report to calculate a numerical score that represents your credit risk to a lender.
A loyalty card offered by an oil company or gas station brand. These are not credit cards. Rewards are often less lucrative than credit card programs.
A credit card that offers rewards on general purchases and gas purchases. Rewards don't have to be used for fuel.
An offer that only lasts for a specified period after you sign up for a card such as an introductory APR on purchases.
Non-essential features added to a credit card by the credit card issuer. These include travel insurance, monthly credit scores, emergency roadside service, and so on.
The amount of charges made on your card during a billing cycle less any statement credits or returns. Credit Card issuers often use this number to calculate rewards.