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Fuel Savings on Gas Discounts

Due to the rising costs of gas and the changing nature of the grocery rewards programs in California, I’ve been mindful of the gas promotions and my monthly rewards to qualify for such. But without a watchful eye, savings can just as well be lost money.

I was most vigilant–Mad Eye Moody vigilant–when Ralphs and Shell offered 20 cents off per gallon for a temporary time. That amounted to a maximum savings of 2 gallons worth. Well unfortunately, that’s no more at Ralphs.

But Vons did get into the fray with their own program, a tier-based promotion offering a maximum of $1 off per gallon at Vons Fuel Stations. There are several restrictions however.

For every dollar spent at Vons, you get 1 point. 100 points begets you a 10 cents-off gas reward. A 20 cents-off discount per gallon is rewarded with 200 points. These discounts are redeemable at Chevron and Texaco stations as well as Vons own fuel stations. When one earns 1000 points, $1 off per gallon is available. Here are some important restrictions:

  • One car only. How they can monitor that is beyond me. During the 20 cents discount phase at Shell, I joined my friends in a fueling trip, holding the nozzle until the 2nd car drove up to the pump.
  • 25 gallon maximum. Most credit cards cap their fueling authorization to $50. At Shell, they place an advisory sticker on the pump for customers to go inside and pay for orders over $50.

How to best maximize your savings?

  • Take friends. With either program, there’s no way to get the most out of the discount unless you use it up. With my Prius, my fuel tank capacity is 11.9 gallons. At best, I save $1.20 on the lowest tier discount. Just don’t replace the nozzle until you’re completely done with your fuel purchase. Really, I fail to fathom that a gas attendant would run out of the cage just because you want to save an extra $2. Be sure to pay inside for this, most likely splitting payment methods ie cash and credit/gift card.
  • Be mindful of your monthly grocery spending as the month nears its end. If you have 89 points on October 30, it might be a good idea to spend $11 before 11:59 PM on Halloween to get a discount because points under 100 are excised at the end of each month. I use my friend’s number if I’ve reached my threshhold to further them on their way to their own discount.
  • Don’t forget to use them. For both programs, rewards do expire. You have the following month in which you earned the points to redeem them. For instance, any rewards earned in July expire at the end of August. Keep receipts in the car and check your point balance online.
  • Purchase Chevron or Texaco gift cards at Vons. Then use these to purchase fuel at the station. Why? Currently Vons is offering 4x in points of the amount of the gift card. Instead of buying $1000 worth of groceries, you can buy $250 in gift cards instead.
  • Purchase gift cards at Vons. Yes, this requires repeating. Mostly the gift cards available at grocery stores are for dining, entertainment, and service establishments. The purchases you still want to make with your credit card are sporting goods and electronics. Even though you bought the gift card with a credit card, the protections associated with your credit card do not transfer over. But if you’re going out to eat or to a movie, buy those gift cards and rack up the rewards. (There are restrictions on what type of gift cards you can buy–you do not earn rewards on bank-based gift cards or gift cards for the same grocery chain of stores.)
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Consider this:

  • A Vons 100 point reward is equal to a maximum savings of $2.50. Money spent: $100
  • A Vons 200 point reward is equal to a maximum savings of $5. Money spent: $200
  • A Vons 1000 point reward is equal to a maximum savings of $25. Money spent $1000.

The savings in all cases is 2.5%. Maximum.

When you purchase gift cards at Vons, you’re spending $250 to receive a 10% discount of $25 maximum. What credit card gives 10% back in rewards or points?

Even when you combine the 5% rewards some gas cards give back in rewards on fuel purchases, the combined savings on grocery and gas still won’t equal 10%.

At Ralphs, currently the bonus for purchasing gift cards is only 2x. However one can fill up to 35 gallons. During the holidays, the bonus multiplication increases so be on the lookout for that.

I note again that the maximum savings is what you’re chasing after. If you think of the discounts as money, would you want to earn $25 but retain only $6 of it?

Savings only translates into cash when you actually utilize it.

So with a watchful eye and a little help from friends, you can offset some of the trauma from the high price of gas.