Shopping for fuel is no fun. I can say that honestly. Right out of college, my first job was as a marketing rep for one of the biggest names in blue chip fuel. When you or I see the gas prices go up or down a penny, we may feel dismayed. But when my gas station owners (all 38 of them at the time) saw this happen, they filled up my voice mail with screaming messages, claiming the oil company was trying to put them out of business.

The moral of this story is, it’s hard on either side—whether selling or buying, no one really likes the final result. Happily (for consumers at least), gas companies are attempting to ease the sting a bit with a slew of gas rewards cards and loyalty programs. Here’s what you need to know to ensure you save the most you can on fuel purchases.

6 Tips to pick the best gas rewards programs

Choosing a gas rewards program can be time-consuming and confusing. Here are six tips to simplify your search.

1. Always pay off your gas rewards card balance in full.

The reason for this is simple—card-to-card estimates show that many gas rewards cards have higher interest rates than their non-gas peers. If you carry a balance, the interest will eat away at any savings you may accrue.

  • What to do: Research the interest rate for each one of your credit cards. If you must carry a balance, do your best to use the card with the lowest interest rate for what you cannot pay off in full.

Example: (example calculation is based on national interest and gas price estimates)

  • Say you earn $0.10 off per gallon of gas with your card.
  • But you carry a balance of $100 with an interest rate of 28%.
  • Your daily interest rate is 0.00077 (.28 / 365) and your accrued interest charges work out to be $2.31 ($100 * 0.00077 = 0.077 * 30 days = $2.31).
  • So you pay an extra $2.31 in interest for the privilege of getting a $4 gallon of gas for $3.90.

2. Before choosing a gas rewards card, compare interest rates.

If you have a selection of local gas brands to choose from, take a look online to find out what each gas rewards card’s interest rate is before you reward that brand with your business.

3. Consider other perks before opting for a gas rewards card.

There are other ways besides opening a new line of credit to get discounts on your fuel purchases. Take a look around at your local vendors and see what you can find!

Some examples to help you brainstorm:

  • Safeway/Randall’s & Exxon/Mobil’s Rewards Points Program: Save up to $0.20 per gallon at Safeway/Randall’s gas stations and Exxon/Mobil stations. All you need is your Randall’s Remarkable card! Sign up now
  • Kroger & Shell: Save up to $1.00 per gallon at Kroger gas stations and Shell gas stations. All you need is your Kroger card! Sign up now
  • Walmart: If you have a Walmart credit card, you can save $0.15 per gallon at Walmart gas stations. Sign up now

4. Use Gas Buddy and just buy the cheapest gas.

Rather than juggle a bunch of gas credit cards and rewards programs, you could simplify and use a free app like Gas Buddy to identify the lowest street price per gallon on the days you need gas.

  • Get Gas Buddy (free for iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry)

5. Steer clear of “this gas brand only” cards.

Opening a line of credit that you can only use at a particular brand of gas station is not just limiting—it’s also outdated. Instead, opt for a card that offers rewards for multiple categories of purchases (including gas purchases at any station you choose).

6. Read the fine print before you sign up.

If your car takes 35 gallons of gas per fill-up and your rewards are capped at 25 gallons per purchase, or if you are on the road constantly for work and there are no stations in some regions you visit, the program may not be a good fit for you.

The ideal rewards program will offer you:

  • Universal gas rewards earning power. (For instance, 3% off all gas purchases—this means all purchases on your card that the merchant codes as “gasoline purchases,” not all purchases at a specific station.)
  • Automatic rewards redemption. No jumping through hoops, no minimum points accrual before redemption, no forms to fill out or receipts to save and submit.
  • Rewards earning power beyond just gas. For instance, the Kroger program gives you discounts on groceries plus discounts at the pump—and you don’t even need a credit card to earn rewards! The Capital One No Hassle Cash Rewards Card offers instant redemption and a variety of ways to use rewards points.

4 Top-rated gas rewards credit cards

If you do decide a gas rewards-related credit card is a good fit for your needs, here are four of the top-rated cards on the market today.

1. TrueEarnings® Card from Costco and American Express

  • Earn 3% on fuel purchases (capped at $4,000).
  • Earn 1% on fuel purchases $4,001+.
  • Earn 2% on restaurant and travel purchases.
  • Earn 1% on all other purchases.
  • No annual fee.

2. Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

  • Earn 1.5% cash back for all purchases, including fuel.
  • Earn a one-time bonus of $100 if you spend at least $500 in the first 90 days.
  • No annual fee.

3. Barclaycard® Rewards MasterCard®

  • Earn double points for every $1 spent (2 points = $1) on gas, utilities and groceries.
  • Earn 1 point for every $1 spent on everything else.
  • Use points like cash to redeem rewards.
  • No cash back limits or black out dates.
  • No annual fee.

4. Discover it® Chrome

  • Earn 2% cash back on fuel and restaurant purchases.
  • Earn 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Double your cash back earning power when you make at least $1,000 in fuel and restaurant purchases in a quarter.
  • Earn 5-20% cash back when shopping at specific retailers (Macy’s, Apple, Best Buy, et al).
  • Redeem cash back at like cash ($1 in cash back = $1 at Amazon checkout).
  • No annual fee.
Gasoline Rewards Programs: What You Need to Know to Save the Most