As summer gets closer, gas prices continue to climb. This doesn't mean you have to table your road trip plans. Here are 3 ways to keep your wallet plump at the pump:
Store Loyalty Programs
Many grocery stores across the country, like Cub, Giant Foods, and Food 4 Less, offer gas rewards programs. A popular one is Kroger's Rewards Card, which gets you one point for every dollar you spend on groceries, and double points on gift cards. The points can be used to fill up at Kroger gas stations. You can combine it with their 1-2-3 Rewards Visa, which saves you $0.25 off a gallon during the first 3 months once you meet certain point levels. Or, check out the RewardsPoints program at Safeway, which gets you 50 gas points every time you fill a prescription, in addition to points on general purchases.
To maximize these benefits, choose a store that you shop at regularly, and that has a gas station with competitive rates. Also check out how many gallons you're allowed to get discounted each time you're at the pump (ie. you want to fill up your 20-gallon gas tank, but the rewards may only be applied to 5 gallons at each visit). This will help you determine whether the program is the right fit for you!
Credit Card Rewards
Several credit cards have gas rewards built into them, like cash back on gas purchases or points you can use to pay for your next refuel. The popular American Express Cash Back Preferred gets you an unlimited 3% cash back on gas purchases. It does have a $75 annual fee, but it's offset by a $100 welcome bonus. Or, check out the Chase Freedom card, which bags around 3% back yearly on gas purchases (as well as cash back on many other categories) with no annual fee.
The BP Visa Card by Chase nets a $0.15 per gallon rebate for every $100 in BP purchases, and the Discover Open Roads Card, offers double Cash Back Bonus points on your first $250 in gas station purchases each month (plus an unlimited 1% cash back on the rest).
I know we say this all the time, but always be sure to read the fine print. The cash back rate may vary from quarter to quarter, or your rewards may be capped at a certain point. Also, check out whether the cash back on gas purchases is reported separately from your general purchases (otherwise, you'll only know how much you got back on general credit card purchases, not gas-specific ones). Your safest bet would be a general use card like the AmEx or Chase Freedom, because you'll get points no matter what you buy or when you buy it.
A simple way to get a straight-forward discount is by purchasing gift cards from a discount seller. Sites like GiftCards.com and Plastic Jungle resell gift cards to Costco and Chevron at a discounted price (like this $100 Chevron card on sale for $98). Although it only saves you around $2 off each gift card, it can add up over time! These cards are typically discounted less than 5% off their face value (so you'll likely never get an amazing 50% off deal) but the savings are clear-cut; you know how much you're saving every time you use them.
Free Online Tools
Check out MapQuest's Gas Prices tool and the AAA Fuel Finder to map out low-priced gas stations and calculate fuel costs. Or, try Gas Price Watch and Gas Buddy to find the lowest gas prices near you. Both have smartphone apps so you compare prices on the go!
Nothing beats first-hand experience, so we'd love to know which programs or cards you've used, and how they have worked. How do you save money on gas? And how successful have you been with programs and cards like these? Drop a comment below and let us know!
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Photo: AgentAkit (Flickr)