Saving on Gas? Fine Print for Rewards Programs

May 22, 2013 (CHICAGO)

They're everywhere you look; gas rewards programs that tell you you'll save anywhere from five to 20 cents a gallon of gas. For some consumers it's a win win, but you also need to inspect the fine print.

"How much money do you think you saved today?" ABC7 asked driver and shopper Christina McKee's. "I spent 160 bucks on groceries. So, hopefully a good $10. Normally, when I go to the gas station, I get a dollar off per gallon."

After doing the math, it turns out McKee's $160 grocery store visit, using her rewards program will save her 5 cents a gallon, about $2 on her next fill up.

"I think it is [worth it] in the end because gas adds up," McKee said.

Better Business Bureau President Steve Bernas says grocery store rewards programs like Jewel-Shell and Dominicks-Mobil can save you hundreds of dollars a year if you are loyal to them, but there are restrictions.

ABC7 Chicago went over the fine print and found there are limitations on the money you can save per gallon, per visit.

And some grocery store products like alcohol, gift cards, stamps, cigarettes and fluid dairy products may not always qualify towards points depending on the store. Plus, points you've earned can expire.

"The big print giveth, the little print taketh away some. You have to understand the fine print because some can take away the reward in 45 days. Others can last longer," Bernas said.

AAA says gas prices have actually been going down in the U.S., but not in the Midwest, where they are going up. The city of Chicago and state of Illinois consistently rank number one when it comes to the highest gas prices in the nation.

It's no wonder why people are doing whatever they can to save money at the pump.

Special credit cards also offer fuel deductions, but there's a warning for those, too.

If you don't pay the balance in full every month, interest rates ranging anywhere from 17 to 24 percent can end up taking away your gas savings, and there can be fees.

"The warning we would send to folks is, see if there is an annual fee because if there is, you may not be saving anything. Read the fine print," said AAA's Beth Mosher.

AAA Rewards Visa doesn't have an annual fee and can give you double points at any gas station of your choice.

It's similar to driver Joe Leonard's Discover card, which doesn't limit where you fill up.

"I use it for gas. So whenever I use it, it gives me 2 percent cash back," Leonard said.

Steven Brown's ultimate option: canceling his gas station rewards credit card

" It didn't seem worth it, and certainly, some of the things in the fine print didn't explain what you were getting for credit exposure," Brown said.

The Better Business Bureau says consumers have filed "false advertising" complaints against gas rewards programs, but in every case, the BBB also says companies have disclaimers on brochures and online protecting them from any claims.

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