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How To Save Serious Money On Gas This Summer With Loyalty Cards, More

Gas prices in the United States are creeping higher, but you can stave off at least some of the pain at the pump with new gas station loyalty cards and other fuel rewards programs.

gas rewards cards title imageAs of the start of June, the average price of a regular gallon of gasoline in the United States was $3.67, up slightly (about 3 cents) from a year ago, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. And while there’s no escaping the money we must spend for certain necessities, filling up the tank is one activity that seems to rub just about everyone the wrong way.

“Consumers think of gas prices to the penny,” says Brandon Logsdon, president and COO of the Fuel Rewards Network. “Ask someone what they paid for the last gallon of milk, and they probably can’t tell you. Ask them what they paid for gas, and they’ll know right down to the penny.”

Logsdon has a point. I just put half a tank in my trusty minivan, and I paid $4.13 a gallon. The bill came out to $43.35. Ouch.

Had I been near a Shell station, I definitely could’ve shaved a few cents off that price—and definitely more with some diligence. I have a card in the Fuel Rewards Network (FRN), which is one of several ways consumers can score discounted gas. It’s unique, though, in that it’s a loyalty program that costs nothing to join, and offers consumers the chance to link to an existing MasterCard, or graduate to a MasterCard sponsored by FRN.

BP also has a Driver Rewards card that’s fairly straightforward, and which I also use. When you sign up, you get a 10 cents per gallon instant reward. After that, you get 5 cents per gallon off for every 20 gallons of fuel purchased, following a minimum of to transactions totaling 20 gallons. You can pick up BP’s reward card at any participating station, and there’s absolutely no catch.

Likewise, you can pick up an FRN card at a participating Shell station, or apply through the Fuel Rewards Network website. It’s a much more extensive and generous program than BP’s, in that you can make purchases elsewhere and rack up substantial discounts. Play your card right (as in your MasterCard) and you can pay as little as 1.9 cents a gallon for gas.

Once you sign up and link the FRN card to your existing MasterCard, you earn a 10 cents per gallon discount for every $50 spent at 10,000 participating restaurants. Gas discounts are also offered for shopping at Shell convenience stores or grocery stores that are part of the program, including HyVee, Winn Dixie and BI-LO when you use your linked MasterCard at checkout.

FRN also has an online mall portal where you can earn fuel rewards for shopping at close to 900 stores, including Nordstrom, Sports Authority and Coach. You earn 5 cents per gallon or more for every $50 spent, and  some online merchants will multiply those rewards by 2, 5 or 10 times.

With several million registered members in the baseline program, FRN members can also graduate to a MasterCard sponsored by FRN. There’s also no fee. “You accelerate the speed at which you earn the reward significantly,” Logsdon says.

Logsdon compares FRN’s MasterCard to a frequent flyer or hotel points credit card, and it’s an apt analogy: both in good ways and those that advise caution. As with many frequent flyer credit cards, rewards multiply at faster rate when you use Shell’s FRN credit card. If you earn $8 for every $200 spent on dining, you’ll earn an additional $4 from using the credit card.

But the FRN MasterCard also carries with it a high APR. On the one hand, that’s not uncommon for points credit cards in the airline industry. Still, you have to watch your spending, and pay off those balances monthly, or else the interest will negate any gas savings you earn.

So if you’re looking to save money on gas, what are some of the best ways to go?

Both the standard Fuel Rewards Network card and BP’s Driver Rewards card carry no risk in terms of running up balances, and you’ll get rewarded for your loyalty. The FRN discounts will multiply once you link them to your MasterCard, so if you’re use your credit card to make standard purchases with vendors in the program that you already frequent, that’s a great deal.

Provided you can manage the credit card well and keep your monthly balance as close to zero as possible, the FRN MasterCard could save you as much as $2,000 or more year on gas.

Warehouse clubs

Membership in Costco also offers a sound alternative to saving money on gasoline. Though its prices aren’t always the absolute lowest in the neighborhood, Costco has been pretty aggressive about pricing gas 6 to 12 cents a gallon cheaper than stations surrounding its stores. Other membership-only warehouse clubs have adopted a similar pricing strategy, so consider these places when looking for the cheapest gas close to you.

Use gas-saving apps

The free GasBuddy app still ranks as the best for finding the lowest gas prices in your driving area. But there are other driving apps that save you gas, including Waze. This clever navigation app uses crowdsourcing to gather traffic information. That means drivers in your alert you to road snafus, traps, and hazards, from traffic snarls to red light and speeding cameras. It’ll even show you shortcuts you never knew about—a sure way to save fuel.

Credit cards with gas-saving premiums

Many credit cards offer gas saving premiums, though they may come with an annual fee. The American Express Blue Cash card, for example, earns an unlimited percent cash back on gas pumped at any station, as well as a full 6 percent cash back on groceries (up to $6,000 spent a year) and unlimited 3 percent on department store purchases. But it has a $75 annual fee and you’ll need excellent credit to get it—though if you do, you’ll get 0 percent APR for the first 15 months (12.99-21.99 percent thereafter)

Published or updated on June 25, 2014

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About Lou Carlozo

Based in Chicago, Lou Carlozo is a personal finance contributor for Reuters Money, a columnist with DealNews.com, and a former managing editor at AOL's WalletPop.com. Contact him with story ideas for Money Under 30 at feedbacker@aol.com, or follow him via LinkedIn and Twitter (@LouCarlozo63).


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