If you’re a road warrior or if your lifestyle requires any driving, you’re probably wondering how the heck you’re going to be able to keep your wheels on the road with the exorbitant gas prices we’re seeing.
You may be considering a gas station-branded credit card to help offset these inflated prices — getting a few cents back on every gallon sounds like a pretty sweet offer, especially right now. But I’d argue a cash back or rewards card that includes gas as one of its spending categories might be an even better option to help you minimize the damage to your wallet, until this oil crisis is solved.
What is a gas credit card?
When I say “gas credit cards,” I don’t necessarily mean credit cards that have an oil corporation logo stamped on the front. Many of those card products exist, some offering a discount of up to 6 cents per gallon (think the ExxonMobil Smart card and the Sunoco Rewards credit card).
Saving 6 cents per dollar sounds like a lot — but keep in mind that the higher gas prices rise, the less return-on-spending that 6 cents are going to be. Not only that, but gas-branded credit cards often come with higher interest rates, around 26% or so. If you’re not paying your gas credit card bill off each month, you could be losing more money than you’re saving.
All of this means that traditional cash back or rewards cards may be much more favorable when gas prices are high (as they are now).
Per CNBC, the average gallon of regular gas in the U.S. now costs $4.33. Did you know that cash back credit cards offer up to 5% back at gas stations? (Take note: we’re talking in percents here, not just cents back.)
By swiping one of these cards, you can score a discount of up to 21 cents per gallon. That’s more than three times the savings of some co-branded gas station credit cards.
Which gas credit card should you choose?
If more affordable gas is what you’re after, there are plenty of powerhouse credit cards to choose from. It costs me nearly $60 to fill up my compact Mazda 3. With the right gas station credit cards, I can easily save $150 per year — and again, I drive sparingly.
Let’s take a look at some valuable credit cards that offer a generous return at the gas pump.
Citi Custom Cash℠ Card
The no annual fee Citi Custom Cash℠ Card offers a straightforward rewards-earning structure. It earns 5% cash back on up to $500 in purchases in whichever category you spend the most each billing cycle. Eligible categories include:
- Gas stations.
- Grocery stores.
- Select streaming services.
- Home improvement stores.
- And more.
If your biggest expense each month is gas purchases, your Citi Custom Cash℠ Card will automatically give you 5% cash back for those purchases. Just note that you can only earn 5% back on up to $500 in purchases in whichever category triggers the bonus (then you’ll earn 1%). You’ll also earn 1% on all other non-bonus purchases.
In short, the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card gives you the ability to earn up to $300 in bonus cash back at gas stations each year if gas is your top spending category. The card also comes with a sign-up bonus of $200 after spending $750 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
U.S. Bank Altitude Connect
Alternately, the U.S. Bank Altitude Connect offers 4 Altitude points per dollar at gas stations and for travel purchases. You can redeem these points for cash back, gift cards, travel, etc., at a rate of one cent each — meaning this card effectively provides 4% back at gas stations.
While that’s a lower rate than the Citi Custom Cash, this card may be better for road warriors, as its earning rate is uncapped. Depending on how often you drive, you could potentially earn thousands of dollars in cash back per year.
This card incurs a $95 annual fee, waived the first year. But it also comes with benefits such as cell phone protection and up to $30 in yearly streaming credits.
The U.S. Bank Altitude Connect features a 50,000-point bonus (a $500 value) after spending $2,000 on purchases within the first 120 days of account opening.
Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card
The no annual fee Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card offers the ability to earn a whopping 5.25% back at gas stations — but there’s a big caveat.
You see, the card allows you to earn 3% back in one of the following categories:
- Gas stations.
- Online shopping.
- Home improvement or furnishing stores.
But, this 3% bonus is capped at $2,500 per quarter. Once you hit that, you’ll earn just 1%.
Here’s the trick: if you are a Bank of America Preferred Rewards member, you can earn a bonus percentage to your earning rates depending on the value of your Bank of America account and/or Merrill investment accounts. Here’s what you’ll get:
- 25% bonus for those with an average combined balance of $20,000 to $49,999.
- 50% bonus for those with an average combined balance of $50,000 to $99,999.
- 75% bonus for those with an average combined balance of $100,000+.
In other words, if you’ve got $100,000 or more between your Bank of America and Merrill investment accounts, you’ll earn 5.25% back at gas stations. That return is nearly impossible to beat, but it’s not easy to unlock, either.
The Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card offers a $200 online cash rewards bonus after you spend $1,000 on purchases within 90 days of account opening.
Chase Freedom Unlimited
Perhaps the most popular card to save money at the gas station is the no annual fee Chase Freedom Unlimited. It currently offers a two-part sign-up bonus:
- $200 after you spend $500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
- 5% back for gas station purchases on up to $6,000 spent in the first year.
In total, this bonus is worth $500 — with $300 earned from gas station spending.
Note that after your first cardmember year, this card will become unremarkable for gas station spending, as you’ll earn just 1.5% back.
Citi Premier® Card
Finally, the Citi Premier® Card is a fantastic travel rewards credit card for gas station purchases – but only if you’re ok with earning points rather than cash back.
The card earns 3 Citi ThankYou points per dollar for the following expenses:
- Gas stations.
- Air travel.
You can redeem Citi ThankYou points for cash at a rate of one cent each, giving you a 3% return at the pump. However, Citi ThankYou points can be significantly more valuable when transferred to airline and hotel partners such as Wyndham, Singapore Airlines, Avianca, and many others.
If you want your gas spending to earn you cheap airfare and hotel stays, this is the card for you. If you’re looking for more general cash savings, best to stick with cash back.
Note that the Citi Premier® Card comes with a $95 annual fee. But it also offers a sign-up bonus of 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. You can also offset the card’s annual fee each year by taking advantage of its annual hotel credit: $100 off a single hotel stay costing $500+ (not including taxes and fees) when you book through thankyou.com.
The best gas cards are almost always cash back credit cards that are not affiliated with an oil company. It’s not difficult to receive between 4% and 5% back for your gas station spending without even paying an annual fee.
Even if you’ve got a fuel-efficient car or you work remotely, you’re likely feeling the sting from exorbitant gas prices. If you’re not using one of the above credit cards to fill up your vehicle, you’re burning your money along with all that gas.
Featured image: l i g h t p o e t/Shutterstock.com
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