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GasBuddy has launched a new discount card tied to your checking account. It might work for some consumers, but not all
For diehard drivers obsessed with finding the lowest gasoline prices, new smartphone apps, branded credit cards and wholesale clubs are making it possible to stealthily beat the prices posted at the pump.
In an environment where prices can fluctuate by the day, location or a whim, the branded cards and membership clubs offer discounts to maintain loyalty while the apps allow drivers to earn cash back on gas pumped at a larger number of stations.
Whether drivers are paying to save or downloading apps, both ways collectively show that marketers have discovered that there are few products in which price matters as much as gasoline — and concerns only grow as prices gradually escalate across the country.
“There is no commodity that people are more price sensitive toward than gas prices,” said Jeff Lenard, spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores. “It goes beyond a couple cents a gallon. There’s a real emotional connection to gas prices.”
For the last 41 months, gas prices have stayed below $3 per gallon in most parts of the nation, Lenard said, but now are on the rise. At $2.66 Wednesday, the national gas price average is 13 cents higher than a month ago, highest in nearly three years, according to AAA.
“If consumers can save a few cents a gallon, it feels like victory,” Lenard said.
More: U.S. national average gasoline price surges toward 3-year high
Saving with GasBuddy
GasBuddy, a company that tracks gas prices, released a study that found the best and worst days to buy gas.
It’s a bigger victory when they can beat posted prices.
GasBuddy, which got its start crowdsourcing gas prices to direct drivers to the cheapest station on its website, has rolled out a feature offering discounts.
Called “Pay with GasBuddy,” the app’s new payment card offers additional savings through two cashback arrangements — automatic cents off for every gallon or discounts with Sears and Kmart’s Shop Your Way rewards program, company spokeswoman Allison Mac said.
The payment card connects to checking accounts and deducts purchases from bank accounts. A driver’s license is needed when signing up, Mac said, to verify the user’s identity and to verify they are at least 18 years old.
Drivers can choose to receive 10 cents off their first fill-up and then 5 cents off each gallon for subsequent purchases at 90% of the nation’s gas stations. There’s a limit of $75 in gas purchases a day and $300 weekly limit.
“The pump price will be the same as what is advertised but when you look at your checking account that’s where you’ll see the difference,” Mac said.
Or the savings are tripled for users who opt to earn for the Sears’ program, which doesn’t mean dollars in the bank but money to use on Sears and Kmart purchases. Users earn 30 cents in rewards points back per gallon for the first 60 days and then 15 cents a gallon after.
GasBuddy, whose apps have been downloaded more than 70 million times, has launched Pay with GasBuddy as a marketing program designed to drive loyalty and keep users engaged with the site. Users’ information is not being sold to other marketers, says Mac.
Mac says GasBuddy may use the program to offer additional promotions through other companies, similar to its program with Sears.
“We make money because users of the payments are more engaged with our app,” Mac said. The hope is that more users will stay with the site and use it frequently.
The GasBuddy card is accepted at most gas stations that accept debit cards, however, warehouse clubs including BJ’s Wholesale Club, Costco, Sam’s Club, as well as select Walmart stations and Exxon Mobil stations are not participating.
More: GasBuddy app vows to save 5 cents a gallon with new feature
GetUpside offers more discounts
Another app for earning money back — up to 25 cents a gallon — is GetUpside.
Currently available in Washington D.C., parts of Virginia, Maryland and New York and Florida, GetUpside works directly with gas station owners to help steer business their way, said Wayne Lin, co-founder and chief operating officer.
Lin and CEO and co-founder Alex Kinnier, who previously worked together at Google, developed algorithms to provide personalized offers to consumers that encourage them to visit certain stations. It’s the stations that are offering discounts through the app.
“It’s a free app for free money on something you’re going to buy anyway,” Lin said. “I think gas is unique because it’s kind of like taxes. No one says ‘I really want to spend my money on gas.'”
Since the 2016 launch, 275,000 users have saved more than $1.2 million with users earning an average of $124 in cash back a year, Lin said, adding the hope is to roll out the program nationwide in the next two years.
The app directs users to participating stations and then users follow a few steps to earn money back, such as selecting “claim” on the app before filling up, paying with a credit and debit card and then uploading a receipt.
Users can cash out their earnings into PayPal accounts at any point but a $1 fee will be accessed for withdrawals under $15. A mailed check requires a $50 balance.
Eric Schmitz, who owns four Virginia gas stations, said he tried out the program 18 months ago with one station and quickly added the other three.
The Ashburn, Va. resident said the program’s “special sauce” is the individual data he gets.
“Gas station guys typically don’t spend a lot of money on advertising but I’m getting a fantastic return,” Schmitz said, adding he believes Uber drivers are big users of the app. “As I tell everyone, it’s the only business in America I know of where we have to put our price on a big sign.”
Road to additional savings
In addition, lots of credit card providers and gas stations have incentive and affinity programs. Here are a few of them:
Plenti: Developed by American Express, Plenti is a loyalty program that allows shoppers to earn rewards at multiple businesses with one membership card. they can earn and use points on purchases at participating Exxon and Mobil gas stations, Rite Aid stores, Winn-Dixie, Bi-Lo and Harveys supermarkets. Macy’s and Chili’s will not participate in the program after May 3. Learn more at www.plenti.com.
BP Driver Rewards: It’s offering 10 cents off per gallon for every $100 spent on BP fuel, which is up to $600 a year in possible savings. Learn more at bpdriverrewards.com.
Cumberland Farms’ SmartPay: Save 10 cents on every gallon of gas with SmartPay, which requires you to link a SmartPay Check-Link card to your checking account. Learn more at www.cumberlandfarms.com/smartpay.
Shell Fuel Rewards: Earn gas discounts through purchases at participating restaurants, grocery stores and online stores. Most offer 5 to 10 cents per gallon savings for every $50 you spend. There’s a sign-up bonus offer for 25 cents a gallon on your second gas fill-up. Learn more at www.fuelrewards.com.
Speedway Speedy Rewards: Earn 10 points per gallon of fuel purchased and points on items inside the convenience store. As a rewards member, you are automatically in the chain’s clubs like the Beverage Club where you get your seventh drink free. Get a card in-store or sign up at www.speedyrewards.com or on smartphone apps.
RaceTrac Rewards: Earn points at the pump and inside the store with the rewards app. However, while you can earn points on fuel purchases the points can only be redeemed for free items in store. Learn more at www.racetrac.com/rewards.
More: How to make big money by saving receipts in 2018
Kelly Tyko is a consumer columnist and retail reporter for Treasure Coast Newspapers and TCPalm.com, part of the USA TODAY NETWORK. Read her Bargainista tips at TCPalm.com/Bargainista and follow her on Twitter @KellyTyko. Sign up for her weekly newsletter at www.tcpalm.com/featured-newsletter/bargainistabest.