Should You Ever Get a Branded Gas Card?
Every time I fill my SUV’s tank, I stare at the credit card advertisements on top of the pumps. These branded gas station cards boast a variety of benefits, saving you a few cents per gallon on each fill-up or even offering cash back on everyday purchases.
But with all of the competitive rewards credit cards on the market today, does applying for a branded gas station card ever make sense? Or can you earn just as much – if not more – by choosing the right mainstream card?
The answer depends on both your spending habits and how willing you are to play the cashback-earning game.
What Branded Cards Can Offer
If you drive a lot and are often filling your tank, a branded gas station credit card can seem pretty enticing. Many of them offer cardholders perks like discounts on each fill-up, rebates when buying items inside the convenience store, and even additional cash back on your non-gas purchases.
Some of these perks are standard, though many are limited-time offers for new customers. For instance, new Shell cardholders can get $0.30 off every gallon for their first five fill-ups; after that, the savings drop to $0.10 per gallon. (Though, this is still a pretty healthy discount!)
Other cards boast benefits like paying at the pump without needing your credit card, in addition to redeeming gas rewards for future fill-ups and card statements.
Why This Isn’t Enough
While the idea of $0.30 off per gallon can be very enticing, is it really worth getting a new gas station credit card? The answer is almost always, No.
First of all, gas station credit cards are very limiting. As with any branded card – such as those from department stores – your best perks will come from store-specific purchases. In many cases, you won’t receive ANY benefits if you use that card elsewhere or to make other types of purchases.
Unless you drive significantly more than the average American, the per-gallon savings that a branded credit card can offer just isn’t worth it.
In some cases, you may also find that your per-gallon savings are negated by higher gas prices. Unless the brand you’re considering is consistently cheaper than other area gas stations, a five- or 10-cent discount won’t matter. You’ll still wind up paying the same price in the end.
Paying interest on your purchases is the biggest risk you face when using a credit card. Gas station credit cards – just like their store-branded counterparts – often charge customers higher-than-average interest rates. If you carry a balance for even a single month, you’ll spend much more in finance charges than you ever saved in gas discounts.
By instead choosing the right everyday rewards card – offering gas perks in addition to other categories – you can still save money on your fill-ups. Even better, though, is the fact that you can actually double up on your savings with the right spending strategy.
What to Do Instead
If you want to maximize every dollar you spend at the pump, stack your offers as often as possible.
Many gas programs, like Fuel Rewards by Shell, are entirely free to join. Not to be confused with their credit card line (by the same name), this loyalty program has no obligation and no fee. You’ll simply save $0.05 or more on every gallon you buy, every time you fill up.
Combine that with a card that already offers great cash back on fuel purchases – like the Blue Cash Preferred from American Express, or Discover it with 10% rotating categories for your first year – and you could save $0.08-0.15 off every single gallon.
Why is this a better option? Well, not only do everyday credit cards typically come with better interest rates, but you’ll also enjoy more versatile rewards. When redeeming miles or points for things like travel, you can easily turn $0.10 into $0.15 (or more) with some cards. This is in contrast to gas branded cards, where $0.01 saved is only $0.01 saved.
Gas station credit cards can be very enticing, at least for the first few fill-ups. Beyond that, though, you can do just as good (or even better) with the cards already in your wallet.