The new Citi Custom Cash Card recently launched with a slew of perks and incentives. As gas prices climb, consumers may be concerned about how to best budget for fueling up their cars. Read our take on whether this card is the best one to help those who spend a lot on gas.
Gas prices have been climbing along with demand. The national average price for a gallon of unleaded fuel is $3.08 (as of June 17, 2021), according to AAA. That’s up about 50% from the same time last year (although that’s not really a fair fight, given how much the COVID-19 pandemic limited Americans’ mobility in 2020). Still, today’s gas prices are about 10% higher than they were at this point in 2019.
Credit card rewards can be a useful way to offset some of these costs. If you spend a lot on gas, what’s the best card for you? Let’s take a look at some of the leading contenders.
- The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card launched last week, and it gives cardholders 5% cash back on their top spending category each billing cycle (for up to $500 in purchases). After that, and on other buys, cardholders earn 1% cash back. The eligible categories include gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores, select travel, select transit, select streaming services, drugstores, home improvement stores, fitness clubs and live entertainment.
- Sam’s Club Mastercard offers 5% cash back on gas (for up to $6,000 in annual purchases, and these can be made anywhere, not just at Sam’s Club gas pumps). It also gives 3% cash back on dining and 1% cash back on other purchases. Each cardholder’s total rewards are capped at $5,000 in cash back each year. The
- The Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi pays 4% cash back on eligible gas purchases (again, made anywhere, not just at the warehouse club) for up to $7,000 per year. After that, cardholders earn 1% cash back. Restaurant and eligible travel purchases earn 3%, Costco purchases come in at 2% and everything else gets 1% cash back.
- The PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card delivers 5X points on gas purchases at the pump and electric vehicle charging stations, 3X points on supermarket purchases, restaurants/dining, and cable, satellite and other pay television/radio/streaming services, and 1X point on all other purchases. Note that eligible gas purchases must be paid at the pump, so you can’t extend your rewards with a workaround like buying snacks and gift cards in the gas station’s convenience store (which some people like to do with other cards).
So, which one is best?
Like everything in the credit card world, it depends.
In 2019, the national average spend on gas and motor oil was $2,094 per household, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Not to sound elitist, but that’s not very much, especially on a monthly basis (about $175).
This comes into play on the Citi Custom Cash because cardholders get 5% cash back on their top spending category each billing cycle (for up to $500 in purchases). Your top category could change every month, which is a nice feature, but we’re talking about maximizing gas rewards here. Every time your top category is not gas, you’re earning only 1% at the pump with this card. If you really want to maximize gas with the Custom Cash, you need to make sure that’s your top spending category.
There are a lot of credit cards that give 1.5% or 2% cash back on every purchase – you may even have one in your wallet. If you don’t spend very much on gas, you’re probably better off using one of those. It would make more sense to use the Custom Cash to get the full $500 x 5% benefit each billing cycle. For instance, maybe you spend at least that much on groceries each month. And a big part of the card’s appeal is that every month can be different. Maybe another month it’s travel or dining or something else.
If you do spend a lot on gas
Let’s say you spend several hundred dollars on gas most months – or, you even hit or exceed that $500 cap. Then the Citi Custom Cash might make a lot of sense for gas purchases, particularly if you’re already maximizing some of its other potential 5% categories with your other cards.
The $6,000 annual cap on the Sam’s Club Mastercard’s 5% gas category equates to $500 per month (the same as the Citi Custom Cash, although with the Sam’s Club card you could go higher some months and lower in others). The Costco card has a $7,000 annual spending limit on its 4% gas rewards. That equates to about $583 per month on average, but again, it doesn’t need to be distributed evenly throughout the year.
If you’re considering the Sam’s Club Mastercard or the Costco Anywhere Visa, you should also take into account the total cost of ownership. None of the four cards I’ve mentioned charge annual fees, but the Sam’s Club and Costco cards are available only to club members (and those memberships start at $45 and $60 per year, respectively). If you shop there regularly, it could make a lot of sense. But I wouldn’t join just for the gas rewards.
The PenFed Platinum Rewards Signature is probably the best choice if you really spend a lot on gas because its gas rewards are uncapped. However, cardholders can only redeem for travel, merchandise or gift cards (not cash back or statement credits). And each point is worth about 0.8 cents apiece, meaning that 5 points per dollar on gas equates to more like a 4% return put towards travel, merchandise or gift cards. You also have to be a member of Pentagon Federal Credit Union to get this card. That costs no more than $5, though, and might be free thanks to current or past military service or government employment.
For most people, gas isn’t a huge spending category. If you spend a lot on gas, then look to maximize those purchases, but consider the full picture. What cards do you already have and how many are you willing to juggle?
Several of the best gas rewards cards have membership requirements that may or may not make sense for you. The Citi Custom Cash is the most straightforward option among the top contenders, but make sure you’re not leaving rewards on the table by using it for gas. You might spend even more on some of that card’s other potential bonus categories.
Have a question about credit cards? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be happy to help.