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Gas card survey finds pedestrian rewards

Venerable cards still useful for credit-building, a quick burst of savings

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Using a major gas brand's credit card to fill up your tank every week can help reduce the cost of your weekday commute each month, but the savings these venerable credit cards offer remain mostly pedestrian.

CreditCards.com's survey of the 20 largest major gasoline-brand cards found fuel savings earned with gas cards vary greatly, from 2 cents per gallon to 25 cents with the most common savings averaging about 10 cents back per gallon. At a dime off per gallon, those who spend $150 on fuel per month  save about $6, or 4 percent. (See chart: "2015 Gas Card Survey Data.")

Survey reveals gas card program rewards vary amidst decline in card options, market competition

While a 4 percent return is good compared to a typical rewards card's payback of 1-3 percent, gas-brand cards' high APRs, restrictions on payouts and complicated rules make them a wise choice for only a few.

Our survey found:

  • Gas cards carry an average APR of 24.14 percent, far above the current average credit card rate of about 15 percent on general-purpose cards. That makes gas cards a poor choice for anyone who carries a balance.
  • Gas cards are slowly dwindling. Gasoline-brand-specific credit cards have undergone many changes, including reward program restructuring and card discontinuation.
  • If you want a gas card, the time to have one is now because in 18 of the 20 cards, discounts come in the form of per-gallon discounts, which are worth more when gas prices are low, as they are now.
  • Maximizing your rewards will take work. They commonly have minimum spending thresholds and maximum limits, qualified and unqualified purchases, often further complicated by tiered rewards levels.
  • Gas cards still can make sense for credit-building, or as a short-term money-saving tool. Many offer instant approval, others give new cardholders a quick burst of fuel discounts useful for travelers.

The gas card decline
Gasoline credit cards date back to the early days of the automobile when oil companies, along with department stores, began issuing proprietary charge cards to promote consumer loyalty. Since then, both the credit card and gasoline market have dramatically diversified, offering consumers a number of gas card options. Some cards are co-branded (partnering with Visa and MasterCard, for example) and built for general use while others hold tight to the original fuel-brand charge-card model.

Despite the importance of gasoline as an everyday commodity, the gas card sector of the card and loyalty market has slowly lost popularity in recent years, according to Jeff Berry, research director for loyalty market research firm Colloquy.

"Even though U.S. consumers hold 24.5 million memberships in fuel and convenience programs, our 2015 Colloquy Census revealed that there was a 3 percent decline in memberships since the 2013 census," he said. "Most fuel rewards programs in North America are struggling to create value propositions and reward structures that appeal to consumers and differentiate from the competition."

This aligns with the 2015 CreditCards.com gas card survey findings. In 2012, CreditCards.com reviewed 25 gasoline-brand credit cards and in 2015, 11 of those same cards were found to be either discontinued entirely or the programs significantly reworked.

For example, the Sinclair Visa was discontinued since our last survey and replaced with the Sinclair charge card, due to a lack of popularity and high expense to the issuing bank and oil company, according to Russell Gibson, manager of marketing and technical services for Sinclair Oil Corp.

"There were only about 22,000 cardholders who were very loyal, interestingly enough, but it wasn't successful in the eyes of the issuing bank and it wasn't very successful in the eyes of Sinclair," he said.

The new Sinclair consumer charge card program is now more cost-effective and competes with other fuel reward programs by offering an instant 10 cents off per gallon instead of a statement credit at the end of the month.

"We believe instant gratification trumps something at the end of the month," Gibson added. "And we know there are other rewards cards out there that give consumers more reward gratification. To quote one customer, 'I get more satisfaction flying my family to Hawaii for free than I do getting 20-30 cents off my fuel bill.'"

GAS CARDS DISCONTINUED SINCE 2012
  • BP Visa (without Pump Rewards program)
  • BP credit card (without Pump Rewards  program)
  • Sinclair Platinum Visa
  • ExxonMobil MasterCard.
  • QuikTrip credit card
  • Hess Visa Platinum

Source: CreditCards.com research. Some of these cards may still be held and actively used by some consumers but are no longer open for new applicants. 

 

The Sunoco Rewards and the Holiday Smart Savings cards are the only other cards from this year's survey that reward consumers instantly for their loyalty, giving cardholders 5 cents off per gallon at the pump.

Despite their erosion, gas cards -- in some form -- carry an enduring appeal.

"Like groceries fuel our bodies, we need gas to fuel our cars," said Erin Raese, president and chief operating officer of Loyalty 360, a marketing association for loyalty programs. "These are items that we will always need. Therefore there will always be someone finding a value in discounts or cash back on these items that they must purchase."

Fuel discounts greatest when gas prices low
The per-gallon discounts commonly offered by gas card reward program give the most back when gas prices are low, since a 10-cent discount off a $2 gallon is worth more than 10 cents off a gallon costing $5. 

The typical 5-10 cents rebate per gallon is calculated by dividing the amount charged to your card by that month's average gas price to estimate the number of gallons purchased during that billing cycle. If you charge $100 in fuel to a gasoline-brand card offering 10 cents off each gallon, you'll get about $4 back at the end of the month, assuming the price of gas remains at or near the March 16, 2015, national average of $2.45 per gallon, as reported by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

But when gas prices rise, the cents-off rebates don't increase proportionally, so the higher gas prices rise, the less they're worth.

For example, if you buy 60 gallons of gas at $2.45 per gallon and earn 10 cents back per gallon, you'll get approximately 4 percent of the money you spent on fuel back. However, when gas prices jump back to $4 per gallon and you buy the same amount of gas and earn the same rebate, you'll only get about 2.5 percent of the money you spend back.

Those relatively small fuel savings aren't enough to attract consumers to sign up for and diligently use a gas brand credit card.

"Unfortunately, 5 or 10 cents off per gallon isn't motivating enough for everyone to shift their fueling habits," Berry said.

Intro offers
To entice new cardholders, a handful of gasoline-brand cards offer new cardholders introductory reward offers that can nearly double the cents-off rebates given at the end of the month.

For example, the Phillips 66 Personal Card lets new cardholders earn 10 cents back per gallon as statement credits for the first 90 days after opening account, compared to the 5 cent back rewards that are earned after the introductory rewards period ends.

A reward offer like this would bump your average $2.50 monthly savings up to about $5, using the previous example. That could come in handy if you are planning an upcoming road trip, but the value of the card would drop dramatically once you returned home.

Minimums, maximums
In addition to small earning potential, many gas card reward programs impose either minimum or maximum purchase requirements, or both. Six of the cards from the CreditCards.com survey mandate that cardholders buy at least 45 gallons of gas each month before rewards start kicking in. Another six cards throttle down their frequent fillers by setting a maximum limit on fuel rewards. The Conoco Personal Card and the 76 Personal Cards clamp down tightest, allowing a maximum of just $99 in statement credits a year.

In most cases, rewards earned in one billing cycle are automatically applied to that month's statement or the next billing cycle, making it impossible for consumers to save up rewards to get completely free gas, which is a big downfall of gas card programs, according to loyalty program expert Brian Woolf.

"The one thing that does hurt these programs is that you can't wipe off the whole price of gas," he said. "Obviously that's a way for the companies to make money, but it's also another reason to get turned off the program. There is not a consistent program across the board and that hurts them."

CARDS WITH INTRODUCTORY REWARD OFFERS

Chevron/Texaco Visa: 10 cents back/gallon for first 60 days, no limits/restrictions.

Chevron/Texaco credit card: 10 cents back/gallon for first 60 days, no limits/restrictions.

Conoco personal credit card: 10 cents back/gallon for first 90 days.

Phillips 66 personal credit card: 10 cents  back/gallon for first 90 days.

Holiday Smart Savings credit card: Get 10 cents off per gallon instantly for first 90 days.

Speedway Speedy Rewards MasterCard: Get 25,000 bonus points when you spend at least $500 within first 90 days.

Although these programs may not have the most straightforward earnings scheme, many are diversifying to reward consumers for more than just fuel purchases.

"Fuel retailers have taken a renewed focus on their convenience stores as an untapped opportunity to improve profits, which is likely why we've seen new emphasis on loyalty programs that incentivize more than fuel," Berry said.

For example, five cards from this year's survey reward consumers for both fuel and convenience store purchases. The two Marathon gas cards in particular reward consumers with Cash Cards that can be used on any future Marathon purchases instead of statement rebates.

There may be more encompassing programs to come. BP and Gulf are currently revamping their loyalty programs, including the ones tied to their credit cards, and will be announcing details later this spring, according to representatives from both parties.

Gas cards as credit-building tool 
Despite higher APRs and limited rewards, gasoline cards do have a bright side: They can be a great way to build credit.

Much like retail store cards, most gas card applications are instantly approved, offering consumers smaller credit limits with higher APRs in exchange for the more lenient approval process. So, if department stores aren't your thing, opening a gas card can be a good option, as long as you can avoid carrying over a balance from month to month since the APRs are typically over 20 percent.

If you already have an established credit profile, but are loyal to a particular fuel brand and are still interested in a gas card, consider applying for a co-branded option. Many gas companies offer a co-branded version of their pump-only gas card, and the co-branded versions often give additional, but smaller, rewards for non-fuel purchases.

"Co-branded fuel cards are a great way for consumers to earn those fuel discounts more quickly with everyday purchases, making the rewards program that much more appealing," Berry said. 

Other ways to save money on gas
If you're looking to save on your weekly fill-ups, there are other, potentially more lucrative, options.

General purpose cash-back or point-based rewards cards give you the flexibility to use the card for more than just fuel purchases and even help you earn more per dollar spent. For example, a cash-back card that offers 6 percent back on groceries, 3 percent back on gas and 1 percent back on everything else may be a good option. Another option may be a travel rewards card that gives you one point for every dollar spent to be applied toward airfare or hotel stays.

Wholesale clubs such as Costco and Sam's Club also offer gas-cost saving opportunities, either through store-branded credit cards or lower gas prices at their own stations for store members.

"Costco's gas pricing strategy is that members will always get gas for the best price," Woolf said. "It's that simple."

Many grocery store loyalty programs also boast savings at their pumps. For example, HyVee grocery store customers can sign up for a free HyVee Fuel Saver card that collects gas savings when they purchase goods marked as "Fuel Saver" items and swipe their card.

"They don't give cents off based on what the customer spends, they give the cents of based on what the customer is buying and that's a huge difference,'" said Woolf. "Customers who want cheaper gas can just buy items that are part of the fuel savings program. It's that simple."

2015 Gas card survey data
 Fuel retailersSavings on $150/mo. spent on fuel
 Fuel retailers
 Savings on $150/mo. spent on fuel

 BP$3.06-$15.31
  BP logo
  BP credit card with Pump Rewards
  PURCHASE APR
23.24%
  STANDARD GAS REWARD OFFER

Earn 5 cents back per gallon in rebates for every $100 in purchases made at BP gas stations and convenience stores.
  ANNUAL FEE

None
  NOTE

Rebates expire in 12 months.
   
  BP Visa card with Pump Rewards
  PURCHASE APR
20.24%
  INTRO REWARD OFFER

Earn 25 cents back per gallon in rebates for every $100 in purchases made in the first 60 days after opening card, except for non-BP gas station purchases.
  STANDARD GAS REWARD OFFER

Earn 15 cents back per gallon in rebates for every $100 in purchases made at BP; Earn 5 cents per gallon rebates for every $100 in purchases made everywhere else.
  ANNUAL FEE

None
  NOTE

Rebates expire in 12 months.

 Chevron/Texaco$6.12-$12.24
 
  Chevron/Texaco personal credit card
  PURCHASE APR
26.99%
  INTRO REWARD OFFER

Earn 10 cents of fuel credits per gallon purchased for the first 60 days after opening card.
  STANDARD GAS REWARD OFFER

N/A -- Not eligible for Fuel Credit Program when introductory offer period ends.
  ANNUAL FEE

None
  NOTE

A maximum of $300 of fuel credits can be earned and redeemed in each calendar year.
   
  Chevron/Texaco Visa credit card
  PURCHASE APR
26.99%
  INTRO REWARD OFFER

Earn 10 cents of fuel credits per gallon purchased for the first 60 days after opening card.
  STANDARD GAS REWARD OFFER

Earn 10 cents of fuel credits per gallon of gas purchases when you make $300 in purchases from Chevron/Texaco fuel centers; earn 20 cents per gallon in fuel credits when you make $1,000 in purchases from Chevron/Texaco fuel centers. 
  OTHER CARD PERKS

$500 ATM cash advances if approved.
  ANNUAL FEE

None
  NOTE

A maximum of $300 of fuel credits can be earned and redeemed in each calendar year.

 CITGO$3.06
 
  CITGO Rewards card***
  PURCHASE APR
24.99%
  STANDARD GAS REWARD OFFER

Earn 5 cents off per gallon as statement credits based upon total fuel purchases made within each billing cycle. Credits automatically post to monthly billing statement.
  OTHER CARD PERKS

Additional cards for family available at no cost; ATM cash advance access.
  ANNUAL FEE

None

 Conoco$3.06-$6.12
 
  Conoco personal credit card
  PURCHASE APR
26.99%
  INTRO REWARD OFFER

Earn 10 cents back per gallon of Conoco fuel purchased during the first 90 days after account opening, in the form of statement credits.
  STANDARD GAS REWARD OFFER

Earn 5 cents back per gallon of Conoco fuel purchased, in the form of statement credits.
  ANNUAL FEE

None
  NOTE

Minimum purchase of 45 gallons of fuel per month required; total annual credit cannot exceed $99.

 ExxonMobil$3.67
 
  ExxonMobil Preferred Smart Card
  PURCHASE APR
24.99%
  STANDARD GAS REWARD OFFER

Earn 6 cents back per gallon on total ExxonMobil branded fuel purchases each month, in the form of statement credits.
  OTHER CARD PERKS

Free Speedpass account and key tag; cash advance access at Cirrus ATMs nationwide (additional fees may apply).
  ANNUAL FEE

$29
  NOTE

Minimum purchase of 45 gallons of fuel per month required; total statement credits cannot exceed $72 per billing cycle and can be earned only on fuel purchases up to 100 gallons.
   
  ExxonMobil Smart Card
  PURCHASE APR
24.99%
  STANDARD GAS REWARD OFFER

Earn 6 cents back per gallon on total ExxonMobil branded fuel purchases each month, in the form of statement credit.
  OTHER CARD PERKS

Free Speedpass account and key tag; cash advance access at Cirrus ATMs nationwide (additional fees may apply).
  ANNUAL FEE

None
  NOTE

Minimum purchase of 45 gallons of fuel per month required; total statement credits cannot exceed $72 per billing cycle and can be earned only on fuel purchases up to 100 gallons.

 Gulf$4.50
 
  Gulf Platinum MasterCard
  PURCHASE APR
14.99-23.99%
  STANDARD GAS REWARD OFFER

Earn 3% back for all purchases made at participating Gulf locations and 1% back on purchases made everywhere else.
  ANNUAL FEE

None
  NOTE

This card is not currently open for new applicants until later this year. 

 Holiday$3.06
 
  Holiday Smart Savings Credit Card
  PURCHASE APR
Varies by state (see individual cardholder agreement)
  INTRO REWARD OFFER

Earn double instant gas discounts for the first 90 days after opening card. (Will vary based on current promotion, currently 10 cents off).
  STANDARD GAS REWARD OFFER

5 cents off every gallon instantly; 5% off in-store purchases.
  ANNUAL FEE

None
  NONE

Some reward earning restrictions may apply for select convenience store purchases (see cardholder agreement for specifics).

 Marathon$1.22, $3.06-$15.31
 
  Marathon Consumer Card
  PURCHASE APR
Card must be applied for in person, rates will vary.
  STANDARD GAS OFFER

Get 2 cents back per gallon for all Marathon purchases; Earn $10 in rebates from Marathon purchases have been accumulated to receive a $10 Marathon Cash Card to use on any future Marathon purchases.
  OTHER CARD PERKS

Additional cards for family members available at no cost.
  ANNUAL FEE

None
  NOTE

No limit on the number of cash cards you can receive.
   
  Marathon Visa Credit card
  PURCHASE APR
16.99-24.99%
  STANDARD GAS OFFER

Earn 25 cents back per gallon on all Marathon purchases when you spend $1000 or more per month; earn 15 cents back per gallon on all Marathon purchases when you spend $500-$999 per month; earn 5 cents back per gallon on all Marathon purchases when you spend less than $500 per month with card. Earn $25 in rebates and receive a $25 Marathon Cash Card to use on any future Marathon purchases.
  ANNUAL FEE

None
  NOTE

No limit on the number of cash cards you can receive.

 Phillips 66$3.06-$6.12
 
  Phillips 66 Personal Card
  PURCHASE APR
26.99%
  INTRO REWARD OFFER

Earn 10 cents back per gallon as statement credit rebates for the first 90 days after the account is opened.
  STANDARD GAS REWARD OFFER

Earn 5 cents back per gallon as statement credit rebates.
  ANNUAL FEE

None
  Note

Minimum of 45 gallons per month required; earnings apply to the first gallon and up to 110 gallons every month; Total annual credit earned cannot exceed $110.

 Shell$3.06, $20.41-$40.82**
 
  Shell Drive for Five card
  PURCHASE APR
24.99%
  STANDARD GAS REWARD OFFER

Earn 5 cents back per gallon on up to 100 gallons in each billing cycle during which you purchase at least 45 gallons of Shell fuel.
  OTHER CARD PERKS

No cost for additional account cards.
  ANNUAL FEE

None
  NOTE

Must purchase a minimum of 45 gallons of fuel during each billing cycle to earn credits; total credits earned cannot exceed $60 each month; credits can be earned only on fuel purchases.
   
  Shell Platinum MasterCard
  PURCHASE APR
23.99%
  STANDARD GAS REWARD OFFER

Make $500-$999.99 in qualifying purchases in a billing cycle and receive 10 cents off per gallon in the next billing cycle; make $1,000-$2,499.99 in qualified purchases in a billing cycle and receive 15 cents off per gallon in the next billing cycle; make $2,500 or more in qualified purchases in a billing cycle and receive 20 cents off per gallon in the next billing cycle.
  ANNUAL FEE

None
  NOTE

Credits do not carry over to subsequent billing cycles (credits earned in one billing cycle must be used in the next); credits can be used only on the first 100 gallons of Shell gas purchased in redeeming billing cycles.

 Sinclair Oil$6.12
 
  Sinclair charge card
  PURCHASE APR
N/A
  STANDARD GAS REWARD OFFER

Get 10 cents off per gallon instantly
  ANNUAL FEE

None
  NOTE

Not a revolving credit card, cardholder must pay balance in full each month.

 Speedway$6.12***
 
  Speedway credit card
  PURCHASE APR
Varies by state (see individual cardholder agreement)
  STANDARD GAS REWARD OFFER

None currently offered. 
  ANNUAL FEE

None
   
  Speedway Speedy Rewards MasterCard
  PURCHASE APR
15.99-22.99%
  INTRO REWARD OFFER

Receive 25,000 bonus points when you spend at least $500 within the first 3 billing cycles after opening account.
  STANDARD GAS REWARD OFFER

Earn 50 points per dollar spent on the card at Speedway locations and 10 points per dollar spent everywhere else. Points are swapped for coupons good for a single purchase of up to 25 gallons; 1,750 points = 10 cents off per gallon of fuel, 4,375 points = 25 cents off per gallon of fuel, 8,750 points = 50 cents off per gallon.
  OTHER CARD PERKS

Points can also be redeemed for food and other convenience store purchases (see reward program terms and conditions for specifics.
  ANNUAL FEE

None
  NOTE

No restricted items for earning points; Points will expire after 9 months of account inactivity.

 Sunoco$3.06
 
  Sunoco Rewards card
  PURCHASE APR
24.99%
  STANDARD GAS REWARD OFFER

Instantly receive 5 cents off per gallon. 
  OTHER CARD PERKS

Additional cards for family members available at no cost; ATM cash advance access.
  ANNUAL FEE

None

 Valero$2.44-$4.90
 
  Valero credit card
  PURCHASE APR
23.00%
  STANDARD GAS REWARD OFFER

A 4 cent per gallon gas rebate will be applied to every gallon of fuel purchased using card if 50 to 74.9 total gallons are purchased during a billing cycle; An 8 cent per gallon gas rebate will be applied to every gallon purchased using card if 75 to a maximum of 110 total gallons aer purchased during a billing cycle.

  ANNUAL FEE

None
  NOTE

Rebates can be redeemed as a monthly credit applied against standing account balance or in the form of a yearly check mailed to the address connected to account.

 


*Savings calculation methodology: Average savings were determined with the assumption that $150 was spent on fuel during a month at $2.45 per gallon, which was the national average for gasoline prices as of March 16, 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information Association. The averages for cards that offer tiered and/or introductory reward savings are noted as a range of savings. 

**Shell Platinum MasterCard reward programs requires a minimum of $500 be spent in order for the cardholder to earn fuel rewards, so for that card only, a monthly fuel spending total of $500 was used instead of $150.

***Speeday gas rewards can be consumed only one fillup at a time, with a discount on up to 25 gallons. Ssavings calculated in the most generous way, which assumes that the customer has a gas tank big enough for all 25 discounted gallons. The savings will be smaller for those who can't purchase 25 gallons at once.

Earlier story: 2012 gasoline credit card survey

Published: March 16, 2015


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Updated: 09-30-2016


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