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March 10, 2013
I love the new Ford commercial that shows desperate customers asking a gas station attendant if he has any marked-down "day-old gas." I've been tempted to do the same thing myself, because prices at the pump are cutting into my budget — and my shopping.
With fuel close to $4 a gallon, any deals I might find at Tanger Outlets or Ikea, say, are offset by what it costs to drive to New Haven or Westbrook and back from Hartford. Rather than give up retail therapy (and this job), I decided to check out gas loyalty and rewards programs that offer ways to save.
Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst with the Oil Price Information Service, says I'm not alone.
"Gas rewards programs have really taken off in the last few years," says Kloza. "For many consumers, saving on gas is like winning a lottery prize. It's cash in their pockets."
Connecticut residents have a number of options, including grocery chain gas rewards programs, gas chain credit and debit cards that offer discounts and new programs like Cumberland Farms' "SmartPay."
"Whichever people use, they like to see the price rolled back right at the pump," says Kloza. "They want to see immediate savings."
Research bears that out. Volatile gas prices and a challenging economic environment have taught fuel consumers to seek out deals, discounts and loyalty programs to get the best value for their money, according to a new study from The NPD Group.
The report, "Price, Deals, and Discounts: Consumer Expectations at the Pump" reported that loyalty programs have had the greatest impact on consumer behavior — especially those that offer cash discounts. Close to 40 percent of consumers said they were more likely to use loyalty programs that offered cash discounts — and even discounts of 10 cents and less per gallon made a difference.
"Clearly, fuel discounts are a game-changer in today's market," says David Portalatin, NPD motor fuels industry analyst.
Kloza says Shell and BP have two of the largest national programs. Consumers can sign up for Shell's Fuel Rewards Network card at http://www.fuelrewards.com and earn gas discounts through purchases at participating restaurants, grocery stores and online merchants, including BestBuy.com and Sears.com. (Most merchants offer 5 cents per gallon savings for every $50 you spend.) Shell customers can also sign up for a company debit card which offers a 2-cents-per-gallon discount.
BP offers a Chase Visa card and a BP credit card that allow consumers to build up gas rewards points through purchases. Information available at http://www.choosebp.com.
Mobile has a special deal for its Speedpass users. Register a SpeedPass account at http://www.speedpass.com before April 30 of this year and you'll get a 10-cents-per-gallon discount (up to a maximum of 100 gallons) when you use your SpeedPass at participating Exxon and Mobile stations. (The rebate appears as a credit on your monthly credit/debit card statement.)
Costco and BJ's members can purchase discounted gas at the warehouse stores. Savings can be as much as 20 cents or more a gallon.
Use Cumberland Farms SmartPay mobile app or card to fill up at a Cumberland Farms station and you'll save 10 cents on every gallon of gas, right at the pump. You can link your SmartPay card directly to your checking account or to a PayPal account. Information: http://www.cfsmartpay.com.
Sign up for some grocery store loyalty cards and you'll get discounts on gas purchases. Stop & Shop customers can redeem points for discounts at Stop & Shop gas stations and at participating Shell stations. Amass 100 points and you'll save 10 cens a gallon; 200 points for 20 cents a gallon; 300 points for 30 cents per gallon up to $2.20 off per gallon. (Maximum of 35 gallons of fuel per vehicle per purchase.)
Price Chopper: savings are good for a single fill-up of up to 20 gallons
Get a loyalty card at Big Y and save your silver and gold coins to get savings on fuel purchases at participating Mobile, Gulf, Sunoco, Citgo and Xtra mart stations. A silver coins gets you five cents off each gallon; a gold coin gets a 20-cent discount per gallon, up to a maximum of 20 gallons per single pruchase. (One coin per purchase.) Information: http://www.BigY.com.
Price Chopper offers its loyalty club members discounts on gas at more than 200 Sunoco stations in Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts. For every $100 you spend, you'll get 10 cents off per gallon, single purchase, up to 20 gallons.
Plenty of savvy shoppers have figured out how to stack discounts to save even more. Buy a $100 grocery store gift card, for example, and then turn around and use it to pay for your groceries and you'll get $100 worth of points twice.
You can also buy gift cards for other stores you shop. Planning to make a big purchase at Home Depot or Lowe's? Buy a gift card at your supermarket and get the points, then use the card for your new washing machine or refrigerator.
Shoppers who don't mind driving to Massachusetts can use Stop & Shop, Big Y or Price Chopper points at participating stations there to save on gas. (On March 4, the average cost of a gallon of unleaded gas was $3.96 in Connecticut and $3.75 in Massachusetts, according to AAA.)
Stores often offer special promotions for gas savings, so watch for deals. Last week, Price Chopper was offering double gas points — and summer, CVS shoppers earned $10 gas gift cards by spending $30 on qualified purchases.
All programs have restrictions and limits and points can expire, so be sure to read the fine print.
Some independent station owners offer special savings, so check with your local gas stations as well. Purchase gas any Sunday (and pay in cash) at Lyons Phillips 66 in West Hartford's Bishops Corner and you'll save 10 cents a gallon, any grade.
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