Summer’s here and it’s road trip season. Time to hop in the car and ride the great American highways without a care in the world. Just kidding. As I write today, we have just experienced the single highest 7-day rise in fuel prices ever!
Today, you’ll pay an average of $4.94 per gallon–or much higher if you’re in a major city, a remote rural region, or pretty much every part of California. All of this to say that the classic summer road trip isn’t exactly so carefree these days. Indeed, it’ll cost you roughly $60 to fill up a 12-gallon tank of gas right now. If you have a pickup truck, the number is probably closer to $150. And if you’re planning to gas up and haul an RV cross-country with your family…well, you may want to consider selling some valuables on eBay first.
However you pump it, gas is crazy expensive right now. But that doesn’t mean you have to cancel your summer travel plans. You just have to get creative about saving at the gas station. You can start by jumping right to our look at The Best Credit Cards for Doing a Road Trip.
Or you can read on to check out these six ways that using a credit card can make your gas cheaper this summer!
1. Pay With a Gas Card
The first and most obvious solution is to join a customer loyalty program with a specific service station brand. Prominent fuel and service chains like Shell, Sunoco, and Exxon offer loyalty programs that include credit card offers for paying less at the pump and enjoying discounts at other affiliated locations. But before you go this route, make sure you consider all the pros and cons of a gas card.
Getting a gas card isn’t a bad option if you get the right offer. As Investopedia points out, most major oil companies offer an array of branded cards both for consumers and for businesses. According to Investopedia, “The oil-company cards typically reward you with a certain number of cents, such as five or six cents, off each gallon of gas you buy at their stations. For example, Exxon offers six cents off each gallon of gas and has offered a 10-cent discount for the first two months for new cardholders.”
This can be a particularly beneficial card for small businesses who must purchase fuel for multiple drivers or vehicles on a regular basis. At a few cents per gallon, the savings per car truly add up. Naturally, every cent of savings matters at a time when margins are tightening around businesses of every size.
That said, there are a few warnings that come with the use of an oil-company issued credit card. First and foremost, you should be aware of any limitations on its usage. Most oil-company credit cards can be used only at specific gas stations. This limitation could be a minor inconvenience or it could actually amount to significant lost savings if you or your drivers feel obligated to use more costly service stations based on your loyalty program.
One other factor to consider is the APR for repaying your outstanding balance. While many oil-company cards are issued with $0 up-front fees, the rate of interest on your balance is typically much higher than the APR on a general credit card. As long as you plan to pay your balance in full every month, this drawback shouldn’t affect you. But it is something you should be aware of. Investopedia warns that many of these brand-specific offers will actually come with an interest rate in excess of 20%. So with all of that stated, if you are considering a gas card, beware of excessive interest rates and look for offers that include valuable additional rewards and savings. Investopedia notes that “Some also offer cash back on other travel expenses, such as car rentals, airlines, and hotels.”
Investopedia also notes that a gas card might be preferable for an applicant with a lower credit rating or shorter credit history. Indeed, this offer may be far more accessible than a general credit card offer with favorable rewards. Oil companies and banks do refer to the same credit reporting agencies to evaluate your eligibility for offers. However, the threshold for eligibility to get a gas card is generally lower than the threshold for eligibility to get a general credit card with a generous cash back program or a valuable rewards package. These reward-laden offers tend to be reserved only for borrowers with excellent credit scores and history.
And remember, just because you have a gas card doesn’t mean you have to use it every time. Don’t pass up the opportunity to save at an affordable off-brand gas station just to use your card. Always prioritize the best deal first.
2. Compare Cash Back Credit Cards
Now that we’ve gotten gas cards out of the way, it’s important to acknowledge that you’ll almost always do better with a general credit card offer that includes a competitive rewards package. According to Consumer Reports, “regular cash-back credit cards could save you even more. A rewards card that pays you 5 percent on your gasoline purchases could mean a savings of $3.73 on a 15-gallon fill-up ($74.55), or more than twice as much as the gas card.”
There are all kinds of mainstream credit card offers that include cash back, points and rewards for use at the pump. If you have a strong credit rating and a sizable credit history, you could be in line for a credit card offer that includes gas-related rewards with minimal fees and low APR. Most major credit card issuers like Chase, Capital One, and Citi feature offers that include gas rewards. Do your research and compare competing offers to find the best combination of APR %, fees, and rewards. One thing you’ll probably find is that most cash-back credit card offers will actually provide more valuable benefits than gas-station issued credit cards.
If you have a strong borrowing history, a general credit card with a great rewards offer is likely your best bet.
3. Get Gas With Your Groceries
If you shop for groceries at a megastore, you might have the opportunity to enjoy savings on two essential areas of spending. Most national grocery and retail chains offer their own loyalty programs and credit cards. And the biggest chains among them also have their own gas stations.
This is great for you, because it means you can use the same loyalty card to save whether you’re pushing a cart or driving a car. When you use a credit card issued by a chain store with a co-branded gas station, you may actually be able to earn fuel rewards with every single dollar that you spend on groceries. According to Johnny Jet, “Buying your groceries with a co-brand grocery store credit card can help you accumulate points quicker. You may also be able to get cash back at the grocery store fuel pumps when you pay with this card. Kroger, Costco, and Walmart have some of the best programs for gas savings.”
The best thing about a grocery card with gas rewards is that you’ll ultimately get rewarded for everyday spending on regular household items. As long as you stay on top of your credit card bills, pay down your balance every month, and avoid interest feels, you’ll come out on top by enjoying cash back at the pump and friendly discounts at the grocery store register.
4. Get Money-Saving Mobile Apps
There are all kinds of mobile apps that you can download onto your phone and apply at the pump. Some of these are issued by specific oil companies and can reduce your cost by gallon by a few cents every time you fill up. As with an oil-company issued credit card, the down side to this type of app is that it can only be used at affiliated stations. On the bright side, you can connect this app to whatever payment account you wish. That means you can use a credit card with cash back on gas rewards through your app. Now you’re saving twice!
Another option is to download a general savings app like GetUpside. This can be applied at a wide range of participating gas stations, not to mention food and retail outlets. Johnny Jet says that “GetUpside shows partner offers for gas stations, restaurants, and groceries inside the app. You can activate your discount (worth up to 25 cents per gallon) and enjoy savings inside the app, on top of the rewards you might get with your credit card rewards.”
Again, pair this app with your preferred account for paying at the pump to maximize your discounts.
5. Get Gas-Hunting Apps While You’re At It
As long as you’re perusing the app store on your mobile phone, try downloading a few apps that can actually help you locate the absolute cheapest gas in your area. The Penny Hoarder sites apps like Upside, GasBuddy, and Waze, all of which will tell you the actual, real-time price of gas at any station in your vicinity. Use your preferred app to find the lowest price on gas wherever you are. And again, use your most optimal cash-back credit card or station-specific card for both the lowest rate on gas in your proximity and additional rewards for every gallon you pump.
6. See If Your Travel Cards Offer Gas Rewards
There are all kinds of travel-focused cards that are designed to provide you with rewards for everything you spend either in the process of traveling or as a consequence of your journey. This means that the card you use to book flights may also be the ideal card to use every time you fill up at the pump. In other words, if you already have a credit card that provides generous airline mile rewards, it’s entirely possible that this same card provides points at the pump or cash back on every gallon you purchase. Read the terms of your offer and see if there are other opportunities that you could be seizing to save on gas. If not, don’t be afraid to ask your credit card issuer about potential offers that do include both airline miles and points at the pump.
And if you don’t have a travel card with airline mile points, we encourage you to check out our look at the Best Airline Miles Credit Cards. As noted above, most of these offers will also include an array of other travel rewards including points at the pump or cash back for spending at participating food chains or service stations while on your road trip.