Gas prices have been climbing along with demand. The national average price for a gallon of unleaded fuel is $3.08 (as of June 17, 2021),Â according to AAA. Thatâs up about 50% from the same time last year (although thatâs not really a fair fight, given how much the COVID-19 pandemic limited Americansâ mobility in 2020). Still, todayâs gas prices are about 10% higher than they were at this point in 2019.
Credit card rewards can be a useful way to offset some of these costs. If you spend a lot on gas, whatâs theÂ best card for you? Letâs take a look at some of the leading contenders.
- TheÂ Citi Custom Cashâ CardÂ launched last week, and it gives cardholders 5% cash back on their top spending category each billing cycle (for up to $500 in purchases). After that, and on other buys, cardholders earn 1% cash back. The eligible categories include gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores, select travel, select transit, select streaming services, drugstores, home improvement stores, fitness clubs and live entertainment.
TheÂ Samâs Club MastercardÂ offers 5% cash back on gas (for up to $6,000 in annual purchases, and these can be made anywhere, not just at Samâs Club gas pumps). It also gives 3% cash back on dining and 1% cash back on other purchases. Each cardholderâs total rewards are capped at $5,000 in cash back each year.
- TheÂ Costco Anywhere VisaÂ® Card by CitiÂ pays 4% cash back on eligible gas purchases (again, made anywhere, not just at the warehouse club) for up to $7,000 per year. After that, cardholders earn 1% cash back. Restaurant and eligible travel purchases earn 3%, Costco purchases come in at 2% and everything else gets 1% cash back.
- TheÂ PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa SignatureÂ® CardÂ delivers 5X points on gas, 3X points on groceries and 1X point on everything else. Note that eligible gas purchases must be paid at the pump, so you canât extend your rewards with a workaround like buying snacks and gift cards in the gas stationâs convenience store (which some people like to do with other cards).
So, which one is best?
Like everything in the credit card world, it depends.
In 2019, the national average spend on gas and motor oil was $2,094 per household,Â according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Not to sound elitist, but thatâs not very much, especially on a monthly basis (about $175).
This comes into play on the Citi Custom Cash because cardholders get 5% cash back on their top spending category each billing cycle (for up to $500 in purchases). Your top category could change every month, which is a nice feature, but weâre talking about maximizing gas rewards here. Every time your top category is not gas, youâre earning only 1% at the pump with this card. If you really want to maximize gas with the Custom Cash, you need to make sure thatâs your top spending category.
There are a lot of credit cards that give 1.5% or 2% cash back on every purchase â you may even have one in your wallet. If you donât spend very much on gas, youâre probably better off using one of those. It would make more sense to use the Custom Cash to get the full $500 x 5% benefit each billing cycle. For instance, maybe you spend at least that much on groceries each month. And a big part of the cardâs appeal is that every month can be different. Maybe another month itâs travel or dining or something else.
If you do spend a lot on gas
Letâs say you spend several hundred dollars on gas most months â or, you even hit or exceed that $500 cap. Then the Citi Custom Cash might make a lot of sense for gas purchases, particularly if youâre already maximizing some of its other potential 5% categories with your other cards.
The $6,000 annual cap on the Samâs Club Mastercardâs 5% gas category equates to $500 per month (the same as the Citi Custom Cash, although with the Samâs Club card you could go higher some months and lower in others). The Costco card has a $7,000 annual spending limit on its 4% gas rewards. That equates to about $583 per month on average, but again, it doesnât need to be distributed evenly throughout the year.
If youâre considering the Samâs Club Mastercard or the Costco Anywhere Visa, you should also take into account the total cost of ownership. None of the four cards Iâve mentioned charge annual fees, but the Samâs Club and Costco cards are available only to club members (and those memberships start at $45 and $60 per year, respectively). If you shop there regularly, it could make a lot of sense. But I wouldnât join just for the gas rewards.
The PenFed Platinum Rewards Signature is probably the best choice if you really spend a lot on gas because its gas rewards are uncapped. However, cardholders can only redeem for travel, merchandise or gift cards (not cash back or statement credits). And each point is worth about 0.8 cents apiece, meaning that 5 points per dollar on gas equates to more like a 4% return put towards travel, merchandise or gift cards. You also have to be a member of Pentagon Federal Credit Union to get this card. That costs no more than $5, though, and might be free thanks to current or past military service or government employment.
See related: 2021 Gas Card Survey: As fuel prices rise, gas card discounts lose their value
For most people, gas isnât a huge spending category. If you spend a lot on gas, then look to maximize those purchases, but consider the full picture. What cards do you already have and how many are you willing to juggle?
Several of the best gas rewards cards have membership requirements that may or may not make sense for you. The Citi Custom Cash is the most straightforward option among the top contenders, but make sure youâre not leaving rewards on the table by using it for gas. You might spend even more on some of that cardâs other potential bonus categories.
Have a question about credit cards? E-mail me atÂ firstname.lastname@example.orgÂ and Iâd be happy to help.