Charging your fill-ups earns credit card rewards points or cash back, and when you add fuel rewards programs and gift cards you can save even more at gas stations.
If you own a car, you’re going to keep filling it with gas – no matter the cost – so you might as well earn some miles and points along the way.
Here are three ways I’ve found to max out the rewards you can earn on your next trip to the gas station.
1. Pick the card with bonus rewards on gas
There are many great credit cards that earn you a bunch of points on your gas expenses. Some earn a flat number of points per $1 all the time, while others earn higher points in select categories in rotating quarters.
Hilton has some of the best travel rewards cards for gas, including the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, which earns 6 points per dollar spent on U.S. gas station purchases, and the regular Hilton Honors American Express card, which earns 5 points per $1. Two additional hotel cards that earn points on fuel are the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card and the IHG Rewards Club Traveler Credit Card, which earn 2 points per $1 on gas every day.
The Chase Freedom credit card and Discover it® Cash Back card regularly include spending at gas stations in their quarterly-rotating categories, earning 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 in expenditures, meaning you can net up to $75 on your purchases at gas stations. You, however, need to opt in or sign up each quarter in order to receive the quarterly category bonus.
If you hold a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve card along with Chase Freedom, you can transfer those dollars to Chase Ultimate Rewards points at a ratio of $1 to 100 points, giving you 7,500 points toward free travel. And when you redeem your Preferred or Reserve Chase Ultimate Rewards points for travel, you do so at a premium of 1.25 points or 1.5 points (for the Preferred or Reserve, respectively).
For new Discover it Cash Back cardholders, Discover will match your cash back at the end of your first year, meaning you could get back up to $150 in savings on your gas station purchases.
More flexible fill-up-and-earn-rewards options include the Citi Premier Card, which nets you 3 points per $1 on gas stations purchases. It allows you to transfer their points to a variety of travel partners for free flights and accommodations.
See related: Best gas credit cards
2. Add a fuel rewards program
In addition to the points you’re earning through spending on a credit card, how can you maximize that further? To start, you can earn points through a separate rewards program like Fuel Rewards or Make it Count.
Southwest Airlines flyers should check out Make It Count, which allows you to earn 1 Southwest Rapid Rewards point per gallon pumped at Marathon stations. One of my Go to Travel Gal readers who lives on a farm in Indiana recently told me she earns several hundred points each month by filling up various farm equipment with diesel fuel.
Fuel Rewards is a similar program, which lets members save cents on gas purchased at Shell stations through dining, shopping and traveling. Members of the free IHG Rewards Club program automatically save at least 5 cents per gallon on every fill-up at Shell just by being a member.
See related: 5 great credit cards to save on gas now
3. Use gas station gift cards to stretch your rewards
Ronald Criagmyle of Marietta, Georgia, likes to stack his fuel savings by using the Kroger Fuel Points program, which reduces the price of gas based on the number of points you earn.
Not only does he buy groceries at Kroger to earn points, but he also buys gift cards for retailers and restaurants where he’ll be making upcoming purchases. The grocer regularly awards 2 points per dollar for gift card purchases, and it offers special promotions when you can earn even more points.
“I have gotten $1 off each gallon up to 35 gallons for the last three years,” Criagmyle says. “It’s been down as low as $1.90 a gallon a few years ago, and it felt really good to just pay 90 cents a gallon.”
Another smart strategy for cards with rotating categories like Chase Freedom and Discover it Cash Back card is to purchase gift cards at your favorite gas station if you can’t max out the $1,500 gas station limit in one quarter. These gift cards still count as gas station purchases, and you can use them to fill your car in future months.
See related: How credit cards take a bite out of gas prices
One final method of using gift cards to further stack your gas rewards in these cards is to purchase gas gift cards at other retailers that are part of the quarterly rotating categories.
For example, Chase Freedom has Walgreens purchases in its third-quarter 5 percent bonus rewards category in 2018, and the Discover it Cash Back card will include Amazon purchases as a fourth-quarter bonus category in 2018. Cardholders can purchase gas gift cards, or even Visa gift cards, from either retailer to earn the quarterly bonus and use the gift cards for future gas purchases.
When you use the right credit card to earn maximum points, then add a rewards program to earn even more points and then purchase gift cards to further maximize your rewards when you fill your tank, you’re scraping every possible point from a purchase you’d have to make anyway.
That stacking of rewards kind of gives rising gas prices a positive spin, doesn’t it? After all, that’s more points for free travel!
See related: 5 great credit cards to save on gas now