Finding savings at the pump is a complicated process, and isn’t quite as simple as just finding the station with the lowest listed price. For each station, you have to weigh several aspects including (of course) the price of gas, whether or not the place accepts credit cards, whether you’ll get rewards with your credit card, and whether you’ll get a discount for paying with cash. Factor into this complex calculus the fact that you don’t know where the heck you are, and saving on gas seems nearly impossible.
A smartphone or online app will go part of the way: simply punch in a zip code, and you’ll find the closest gas stations, their addresses, and how much they charge for gas. However, a ranking of listed prices doesn’t compare apples to apples. Will you be charged extra if you don’t pay with cash? What about credit cards – do gas credit cards pay out rewards at your chosen stations? And if not, should you find a credit card that will pay you rewards near your home or workplace?
Let’s say you’re visiting the lovely Mission District of San Francisco for a world-class burrito, and want to find a cheap fill-up in the area. Instead of doing all this maths yourself, we’ll use our cheap gas finder to get a comprehensive analysis of prices and rewards to find the best of the best gas prices around.
Gas prices for zip code 94110, as of July 4th:
Step 1: Cash or credit?
First off, how can you pay for your gas? Chevron and Twin Peaks, the first two results, allow you to pay with credit card or cash. Arco, however, offers cheaper gas but doesn’t accept any credit cards.
Regular Unleaded Price
Arco $3.74 (best listed)On the surface, Arco seems to be a clear winner – in fact, any online gas finder will list Arco as the best option. And if you’re paying with cash and have no intention of getting a credit card, it probably is. The cash discount provides worthwhile savings for anyone who doesn’t carry a rewards credit card.
However, the NerdWallet tool lists the Arco station last. That’s because paying with dollar bills doesn’t earn rewards. So although Arco’s listed price is lower, using a gas credit card to save 10c/gallon at another station works out to be much cheaper.
Step 2: Which credit card?
Let’s say you decide to use a credit card. Which is the best one for you? A quick look at the results shows that the Chevron credit card will yield the highest savings: 10 cents off per gallon, a rewards rate of over 2.5%. But if you don’t live near a Chevron station, you probably don’t want to take the card out just for your road trips. Lowest price with Chevron credit card: $3.72
The PayPal Extras, listed second, is more versatile: its points are worth around 0.83 cents apiece, and it pays 3 points per $1 spent on gas for a rewards rate of almost 2.5%. It will pay out at any gas station that accepts MasterCard, so you have your pick of pumps. Lowest price with PayPal Extras: $3.72
An alternative is the American Express Blue Cash. The Preferred version offers 3% back on gas purchases, with no limit, but also charges a $75 annual fee that may discourage some customers. If you do spring for the fee, though, you’ll get some great savings. Lowest price with AmEx Blue Cash: $3.67
Step 3: Which station?
Once you’ve settled on a credit card, it’s time to choose your station. If you’ve gone for the Chevron credit card, of course, you’ll prefer Chevron stations above all others. In fact, that holds true for most branded gas credit cards: the BP credit card, for example, gives an impressive 5% back, but only at BP stations.
A PayPal Extras card gives a slightly lower rewards rate than the Chevron card, but you earn rewards no matter where you fill up. Plus, it’s a MasterCard, so you can use it anywhere that accepts plastic.
The AmEx Blue Cash Preferred gives the best rewards rate of all, but comes with its own limitations. In addition to the annual fee, some gas stations don’t accept American Express. While the stations listed above do, a number of stations including many Shells nationwide will only take Visa and MasterCard.
On the other hand, Costco offers amazingly cheap gas, but Costco only accepts AmEx, and only its own Costco TrueEarnings card earns bonus rewards at its stores.
So check to see if your credit card will be accepted before you run out for a fill up, and key an eye out for better credit card rewards, so you can save a bundle on your summer driving.
Price with Card
$3.72 – Chevron
$3.70 – PayPal (best)
$3.47 – Cash
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