Credit cards: How to save $400 at the pump

Credit cards with gas rewards can be a big help in coping with high gas prices. The most effective credit cards could save you $400 at the pump.

Alex Brandon/AP/File
In this February file photo, Michael Morris replaces the nozzle after putting gas in his car, in Philadelphia. Gas rewards credit cards can be a big help in coping with high gas prices.

With the national average price for a gallon of regular gas hovering around $4, the majority of consumers are looking for ways to ease the burden of everyday transportation.  So, what are the best ways to save?

Americans are looking at lifestyle changes. According to an AAA survey last month, 72 percent of consumers said they planned to combine trips and errands if high gas prices persisted, while 64 percent planned to drive fewer miles. But resolutions can be tough to keep and difficult to measure. Here's a much more straightforward savings: $400 a year.

That's the amount of free cash you can expect to earn with the best gas credit card, according to a Card Hub survey of more than 1,000 credit card offers. The PenFed Platinum Rewards Card offers five points per dollar spent on gas, three points per dollar on supermarket purchases, and 1 point per dollar on everything else in addition to a $250 initial bonus. Though it doesn’t charge an annual fee, cardholders will have to pay a one-time $15 fee to join the Pentagon Federal Credit Union.

Consumers who spend around $275 on gas each month can therefore expect to save $165 on gas each year with the Pen Fed card.  Throw in the initial bonus and the cost of PenFed membership and you’re looking at decreasing gas expenditures by $400 with your credit card alone.

Those familiar with gas rewards credit cards might initially be surprised that a generic card – one not tied to a particular gas station chain – offers the best rewards, given that station-specific cards long held the top spot in this niche.  However, with a few new offers on the market and Chase and BP recently taking a sledgehammer to BP’s credit card rewards program, the hierarchy shifted. 

Anyway, the savviest consumers will use the PenFed Platinum Card as but one cog in a larger credit card arsenal designed to garner the best collection of rewards and interest rates possible.  You’re not going to find a perfect credit card, the thinking goes, so why not get a few that together comprise the best card attainable?  For example, someone who is looking to both save on gas and lower the cost of existing debt can get the PenFed Platinum Card as well as a card offering 0 percent on balance transfers for 15 months like the No Balance Transfer Fee Slate Card from Chase.

In addition to arming yourself with the right plastic, making lifestyle changes, joining gas-oriented supermarket rewards programs, and finding the cheapest gas in your area will also bring about significant savings, helping to make the $4 a gallon gasoline a bit less daunting.

– Odysseas Papadimitriou is chief executive officer of Card Hub, a website that helps consumers find the best credit cards.

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