Save On Road Trip Expenses With The Right Credit Card

Planning a road trip anytime soon? Odds are the price of gas is a consideration if not a major concern. As gas prices continue to rise, travelers are looking for new ways to save. Tuning up the car, using smartphone apps to find the lowest price around, inflating tires properly and other money-saving measures can help. Using the right credit card can gain big savings too.

The current national average is $3.78 per gallon – nearly 14 percent higher than it was at the beginning of the year – meaning that gas prices exceed $4 per gallon in some states. Having the right credit card can help. But which to choose? Of the two types of credit cards – gas station-affiliated cards and generic gas cards- there are more than 1000 offers out there right now.

“The credit card market continues to offer surprisingly lucrative gas rewards without requiring consumers to fill up at one particular station or another,” says credit card authority Odysseas Papadimitriou, former Capital One executive and CEO of Card Hub, a credit card rating organization that just released its list of the Best Gas Credit Cards.

According to Card Hub, generic cards used for gas can produce some of the best savings.

The best generic cards?
Pentagon Federal Credit Union Platinum Rewards Card – This one offers those who pay at the pump points equivalent to 5 percent cash back on gas at any station plus 3 percent cash back at supermarkets and 1 percent on other purchases. While the card has no annual fee, belonging to PenFed Credit Union costs $15 and members do not have to be affiliated with the military.

Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express – This card gives 3 percent cash back at gas stations, 6 percent at supermarkets and 1 percent everywhere else. The $75 annual fee is offset by a $150 initial bonus for spending $1,000 in the first three months.

TrueEarnings Card from American Express – Costco members get 3 percent cash back on gas purchases up to $4,000 (1 percent thereafter), 2 percent at restaurants, 2 percent on travel and 1 percent on everything else.

But what about gas station-sponsored cards?

“When it comes to choosing a station-specific gas credit card, it’s important to remember that value is inherently conditional,” says Papadimitriou. “In other words, you’ll have to get gas at the right station and oftentimes spend a certain amount each month or year in order to qualify.”

The best gas station cards include:

Marathon Credit Card – This brings a 25-cent rebate, but the offer has a catch. That $.25 is for each gallon of Marathon gas purchased during months a cardholder charges at least $1,000, $0.15/gallon for spending between $500 and $999.99 and $0.05 for spending less than $500. This card does not have an annual fee or an initial bonus.

Chevron & Texaco Credit Card – This card provides a $0.30/gallon, up-front discount on Chevron and Texaco gas for the first 60 days after opening the account. After that, you get $0.20/gallon off during months that you spend more than $1,000 in qualifying purchases and $0.10/gallon off when you spend $300-$1,000. Qualifying purchases include most charges made with your card with a maximum of $300 in discounts each calendar year.

Card Hub also notes other ways to save on gas, like shopping at certain grocery stores. Kroger, Safeway and others offer discounts at affiliated gas station chains based on how much you spend at their stores. For example, spending $100 at Safeway will save you $2 on the next 20 gallons of ExxonMobil gas you buy.

That idea is especially powerful when travelers combine it with the respective station’s co-branded credit cards.

Looking for other ways to save on gas? Check out this video:

[Photo credit – Flickr user little peppercorn]

Road trip plans foiled by rising gas prices

Just as spring and summer road trip plans are being made, gas prices are on the rise. That’s no big news, as we reported the same thing about this time last year. This year, though, gas prices are beginning their annual climb earlier than ever with potentially bad news on the horizon for road trippers making plans right now.

In an interview with the Buffalo News, Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst for, said, “it’s pretty rough. One word can sum it up: ‘ouch.’ It’s going to be a nasty year for gas prices.”

GasBuddy reports gas prices around the United States, assesses what drives the price of fuel, and offers helpful tips on getting the best fuel economy. This week, Gas Buddy reports a national average of $3.63 per gallon of regular gas, with an average of $3.92 and a high of $4.19 in New York City. In Santa Barbara, California, the situation is worse with an average of $4.40, peaking to $4.79 at the highest station, well before road trip season gets going in full stride. The early rise in gas prices has motorists wondering why.

“This year, the price increases are really based on what’s happening in the world oil market, the crude market,” said Wally Smith, a vice president with AAA, explaining to the Buffalo News, “You get around $4, people really start adjusting driving behaviors.”

So what can we do to prepare for $5.00 per gallon gas?

Moneycrashers, an online source dedicated to developing a community of people who try to make financially sound decisions, suggests that those thinking about buying a car might consider a more fuel-efficient vehicle. At $3.00/gal the added expense of a green car makes owning one more for super eco-aware drivers. At $5.00/gal, the math works.

But saving in other areas to offset the price of fuel, often areas directly affected by the price of fuel itself, can help too. Homes heated by fuel oil will see an increase in costs so finding alternative ways to heat your home is a good idea.

Food will go up in price so we can save money by starting a home garden. Moneycrashers even suggests keeping chickens, starting a beehive, growing your own sprouts, or learning how to forage for nuts.

If that sounds a bit extreme, consider other methods to save on food like buying products in bulk, cooking more at home, and eating out less.

“Food prices really surged at the end of 2011, which isn’t good news to consumers,” said USDA food economist Richard Volpe, in Business Week. “Costs this year will rise as much as 4.5 percent for meat products and baked goods.”

All good reasons why cutting back in areas related and affected by rising fuel prices can leave room in the budget for a decent road trip. Online tools to help manage expenses and predict the price of a road trip are also available.

The website Cost2Drive built a galculator, a fun and easy tool to help travelers budget for road trips, because, as they put it, “the carefree days of jumping in the car with no regard to costs are long gone.”The easy-to-use online tool calculates the price of gas from point A to point B based on current gas prices along the way and even throws in carbon footprint data to consider.

So while we may not be able to do anything about the price of gas, we can control expenses in other areas, leaving room for road trip dreams to blossom.

Flickr photo by photopaige