You drive a lot. Maybe you have a long commute or use your car for work. Maybe you’re constantly ferrying your kids to and from school and extracurriculars. Maybe you’d take a well-routed road trip over a flight to your destination any day of the week. Or all of the above.
Whatever the case, that much driving makes it imperative to save money on gas. And a gas rewards credit card can definitely help you do that. But maximizing its gas rewards as much as you can takes some work.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Gas Rewards Credit Card
Since you can’t operate your vehicle without it, gas rewards provide some of the lowest-hanging fruit on your rewards card — if you leverage them. Follow these tips to get the most value from your gas rewards credit card.
1. Determine How Many Fuel Credit Cards You Need
Many people, especially infrequent drivers, can probably do with just one general-purpose credit card with gas rewards, like the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express. You earn at the same rate on all fuel purchases, regardless of where you fill up or recharge.
The more you drive, the more likely you are to benefit from having more than one fuel credit card. Ask yourself these questions.
- How many fuel or station brands do you encounter in a typical week? If your weekly routine involves 15 station brands belonging to six fuel companies with a branded credit card, applying for each card means you can claim rewards or instant discounts on every purchase.
- How many stations are truly convenient? Every extra mile driven or minute spent waiting at a stoplight wastes fuel and cuts into your savings. Determine which stations are most convenient and apply for the one or two best options.
- Are you a warehouse club member? If you have a Costco, Sam’s Club, or BJ’s membership, that should be your first (and maybe only) branded gas credit card. All offer above-average returns on fuel spending and reward purchases in other categories as well. And warehouse club gas stations tend to have cheaper fuel, anyway.
- Does your go-to supermarket have a fuel rewards program? If your preferred supermarket has a fuel rewards program, look into it. They frequently offer discounts at their own gas stations plus another brand. For example, Kroger’s fuel rewards program discounts purchases at Kroger-operated and participating Shell stations.
2. Choose a Credit Card Type: Co-Branded or General-Purpose
All credit cards are associated with an issuing bank (Chase, Bank of America) and payment network (Visa, Mastercard). But these days, they may also be associated with a specific brand (or co-brand), such as Walmart, Delta, or Hilton — or the gas station you use most often.
If that’s the case, you could save more if you choose that station’s co-branded credit card. They typically offer instant discounts at the pump in addition to a small amount of cash back. Overall, they may have higher overall returns on spending than general-purpose credit cards that offer rewards on fuel purchases in addition to many other categories.
But gas station-branded cards only work at those stations. If that’s a problem because your fill-up routine varies too much, opt for a general-purpose credit card that earns bonus rewards on fuel purchases. You can consistently earn 3% to 4% back on fuel spending with the right card — without obsessing about where to fill up next.
Pro Tip: If you’re a Costco member, apply for the co-branded Costco Anywhere Visa Card to earn 4% back on your first $7,000 in annual gas station purchases. Unlike most gas credit cards, the full 4% reward applies to purchases at Costco and non-Costco gas stations (so long as they’re coded as gas stations), though Costco stations almost always have the cheapest fuel in the area.
3. Ensure Your Card Rewards Your Fuel Types
Before you apply for a gas credit card, confirm that it rewards the types of purchases you need. For example, if you also drive your partner’s electric vehicle, you probably want a card that rewards both fuel types.
If you live in a dual-fuel household, consider how you each use your vehicles. If your child or partner drives an EV, you definitely need a card that rewards charging purchases. The question is whether you get one card that rewards both or look for separate cards. The answer depends on how you both answer the questions under No. 1 and whether your answers are the same in terms of which stations you frequent.
If anyone in the household drives both vehicles regularly, you each need a card that rewards both fuel types. If you have a driver under 18 in your home, make sure the card’s issuer allows minors as authorized users.
Many fuel cards already reward both gas and charging purchases, and that will only become more common in the future, but it’s not yet guaranteed. Gas station-branded cards are less likely to reward charging purchases because they’re closely associated with oil companies, which are lukewarm at best on EVs.
4. Decide How Long You Can Wait to Get Your Rewards
Money is money, but its value declines over time due to inflation. That means fuel rewards are most valuable when you earn them at the pump. They’re a bit less valuable when you earn them every month, as is typical for most general-purpose credit cards, but the difference is basically negligible unless inflation is really out of control.
But if you have to wait up to a year before you can claim your rewards, the difference in value may be noticeable. That’s a big drawback of the otherwise excellent Costco Anywhere Visa card: Your rewards only come to you once per year, and you can only redeem them at Costco.
5. Calculate Point Values & Real Return on Spending
Calculating a gas credit card’s return on spending is easy when it’s a basic cash-back credit card, where “3% cash back” basically means “$0.03 off every $1 spent.”
It’s trickier when the card earns points or miles worth more or less than $0.01 apiece. That’s often the case with co-branded travel credit cards like the Hilton Honors American Express Card, which earns 5 points per $1 spent on eligible gasoline purchases. Exactly how much those points are worth — and thus your actual return on fuel spending — depends on how and when you redeem them.
Likewise, convert per-gallon discounts to percentages when comparing gas cards’ rewards programs. A flat $0.10-per-gallon discount equals 5% at $2 per gallon, an excellent rate of return. It equals just 2% at $5 per gallon, lower than the 3% to 4% rate you get all the time with the top percentage-based gas cards. Even if you don’t use it much when gas is expensive, it makes sense to keep a per-gallon discount card around because it offers better returns when gas prices fall.
Finally, if you drive a lot, pay attention to annual limits on bonus gas rewards. A card that offers 4% back on the first $6,000 in annual gas purchases is an excellent choice for people who don’t consume tons of fuel.
But if you fill up your full-size SUV twice per week, you’ll probably hit the annual cap by summer. And if you don’t have another gas rewards card that offers a decent return on spending, you’re out of rewards until next year.
6. Understand Which Gas Station Purchases Earn Rewards
Some gas credit cards reward only purchases at the pump. Others reward purchases at convenience stores and other businesses attached to fuel stations, which is particularly useful when you’re fueling at big travel centers with tons of stuff to buy.
If you’re stuck choosing between a card that only rewards purchases at the pump and a card that rewards any fuel station purchase, always go with the latter if you’re frequently inclined to go into the station and stock up on other road trip essentials. Even if the rewards rate is a bit lower, you have more opportunities to earn on purchases you’d make anyway.
7. Stack Supermarket Loyalty Discounts on Top of Your Gas Card Rewards
Many supermarkets have gas rewards programs that can significantly reduce users’ net fuel costs. Generally, eligible supermarket purchases earn loyalty points that automatically convert to instant discounts on pay-at-the-pump gas purchases.
Depending on the program, discounts may apply only at the supermarket’s fuel stations, at stations operated by participating fuel companies, or at basically any station in the United States. To get the discount, you may need to link a credit card to your supermarket’s store loyalty account, which is where your fuel credit card comes in.
The ideal credit card for this setup is one that earns bonus rewards on both supermarket and gas station purchases. For example, the Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards credit card earns 2% back on grocery store and wholesale club purchases and 3% back on purchases in the category of your choice — one option being gas stations. That can further reduce the balance left after the instant discount.
8. Don’t Carry a Balance
Unless it’s a true emergency, you should never carry a credit card balance at the regular interest rate. One month of interest charges can wipe out a full year of gas rewards or discounts.
Carrying a balance during a 0% introductory APR period is fine as long as you pay off the balance in full before the introductory period ends. Otherwise, you could be liable for deferred interest charges, wiping out any rewards you earned during the promo (and then some).
9. Don’t Use a More Expensive Station Just to Get Rewards
Sometimes, the smartest thing to do with your gas credit card is not to use it at all. If you have to spend more per gallon to use it than the credit card saves on the purchase, it’s not worth it.
For example, you’re driving past two gas stations on the same side of the road. Station A sells regular unleaded for $3.49 per gallon and Station B sells regular unleaded for $3.69 per gallon. You can get $0.10 off per gallon with Station B’s credit card — a roughly 2.7% discount — or 1% off your entire purchase with a regular cash-back card at either station.
The choice should be clear: Use the regular cash-back card at Station A. The card itself won’t save you as much, but you’ll pay less overall.
The difference isn’t always so stark, but it often makes sense to buy the cheapest possible fuel, even if it means forgoing credit card rewards. Then again, you can usually have it both ways by using an app that helps you find cheap fuel in your area, then filling up with a general-purpose gas credit card.
This guideline also applies to which type of fuel you buy. If your engine can handle regular gasoline, don’t buy premium just to get another couple of cents in rewards. You still pay more overall.
These tips are, ahem, a road map for getting the most out of your gas credit card. Your savings journey starts before you even apply, with a careful analysis of each card’s usefulness, versatility, and overall value.
Just don’t overestimate these cards’ financial impact. Pairing the right card with the right spending strategies can measurably reduce your gas bill, but it’s not a replacement for other ways to save.
You should still plan more efficient trips, use an app that helps you find cheap gas, and consider more substantial changes like trading in your gas guzzler for a fuel-sipping ride. After all, the most effective way to save on vehicle fuel is to use less of it.