With pump prices hitting record highs every week since early March, gasoline rebates may be overtaking airline miles as a favorite reward among credit card users.
"The gas-rebate cards are the newest craze," says Curtis Arnold, founder of CardRatings.com, a consumer Web site that reviews credit cards and provides credit tips. "If consumers use them appropriately, they can really shave off some significant dollars from their gas bills."
Enough to bother getting another credit card? The better gas-rebate cards return 5 percent and up, says Arnold, and they credit the savings to the card account at the end of each month. "With gas prices at around $2 a gallon, that card essentially shaves off 10 cents and brings it down to $1.90 a gallon," he says. "That's significant, especially for consumers who travel quite a bit."
Ira Stoller qualifies. The telecommunications equipment salesman from Butler, N.J., puts about 40,000 miles a year on his car.
"Oh, boy. My gas purchases," sighs Stoller, 68, who estimates he pays close to $150 a month on gasoline -- and that's buying at comparatively low pump prices in New Jersey. "I'm always looking for deals."
A self-described credit card junkie, Stoller has seen gas-rebate cards come and go. He has had a Shell gas card that gave limited-time 6 percent rebates before dropping to 3 percent, and a BP gas card whose introductory offer gave a 6 percent rebate that came in the form of a BP money card whenever savings reached $20. It too dropped to 3 percent.
But he didn't appreciate being restricted to particular brands of gas. That's one reason he likes the AAA Visa card that he has used for gas purchases for the past year. Another reason: It gives 5 percent "straight rebate" that shows up every month on the invoice next to each corresponding gas purchase.
"I figure if the credit card companies are giving, I'm taking," says Stoller, who estimates he has saved $75 on gas using the AAA card.
Many of the new gas-rebate cards coming to the marketplace are more flexible and can be used at any gas station for any brand of gas, says Arnold. The gas cards also offer a variety of deals that make the fine print a must-read.
Some, like the AAA Visa, require consumers to pay at the pump -- not inside the station. Others, such as Citibank's Dividend Platinum Select, give rebates on non-gas purchases -- 5 percent on all gas station, supermarket and drugstore purchases, and 1 percent on other purchases -- but limit rebates to $300 a year.
The Discover Platinum Gas Card advertises "up to 10 percent rebate on gas, and that floored me!" says Arnold. But a closer look found that it gives 5 percent "cash" rebate on gas or up to 10 percent savings on gas to customers who accept their rebate as gift certificates from its partner retailers. "And it's a tiered program, so the rebate depends on your annual level of gas purchases and how fast you get to that top tier. But it's still a great card to think you could get up to 10 percent back in the form of a gift certificate."
Arnold expects more "exciting new offerings" in gas cards and thinks the rebate offers are going to continue to escalate if gas prices continue going up. But he warns that there are some features to consider beyond the rebate.
"Most of these cards don't have annual fees" but a few do, he says. "Consider interest rates. They tend to be very competitive at 10 percent or less on gas cards, but you probably shouldn't be getting one of these cards if you are going to carry a balance. And look over any tiered factors before getting a card.
"It has gotten to be so competitive and that is great for consumers who are disciplined and use these cards responsibly," he adds.
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