Why the Ducks Unlimited Card Was 2020’s Best Gas Card

This card once soared above the rest of the flock with unlimited 5% cash back at the pump, with no hoops to jump through. But that's changed.
Robin Saks FrankelApr 26, 2021
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UPDATE April 1, 2020: The has . It now pays unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases. Previously, it paid unlimited 5% cash back on gas and at sporting goods stores, which is why NerdWallet selected it as our best gas card for 2020. While 1.5% cash back is a decent rewards rate, this card is no longer especially valuable for gas, so this article is out of date. See our roundup of the for other options. Below is the article from when the 5% was still in effect. 

Maybe you think NerdWallet's choice of the  as our  for 2020's best gas credit card was for the birds. Allow us to explain ourselves.

With no memorable catchphrases, no Super Bowl ads or celebrity spokespeople and no big-name financial institution behind it (it's issued by First Bankcard, a division of First National Bank of Omaha), the -annual-fee  flies under the radar. But with stellar rewards at the pump — unlimited 5% cash back on gas — it soars above the rest of the flock.

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That's not to say this card is a no-brainer for anyone with a car. First, consider that you might not spend as much on gas as you think. According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average household spends about $2,000 a year total on gas, motor oil and other fuel.

And its rewards beyond gas might not be especially appealing to most households: unlimited 5% cash back at sporting goods stores and 1% cash back on all other purchases. If you're looking for an everyday card, you might get more value from one with  — not just gas, but also groceries, household goods, restaurants and utilities.

Finally, while proceeds from the card help fund wetlands conservation efforts, the Ducks Unlimited organization does have strong ties to duck hunting. That won't be an issue for many people, but it might make others uncomfortable.

Still, for road warriors and gas guzzlers with big-time fuel expenses, the is simply the best gas card of 2020.

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A handful of other cards also pay 5% rewards on gas, but they come with significant restrictions that don't apply in the case of the .

For example, both the and the regularly offer gas stations as a . In 2020, for example, the Chase card offers gas stations in the first quarter, and the Discover card does so in the second quarter. All other purchases get 1% cash back. But on both cards, that rate is available for only three months at a time, the 5% applies only to the first $1,500 in category spending per quarter, and you have to opt in to the bonus categories online.

The  pays 5% cash back on gas, but only on the first $6,000 a year in spending. After that, your gas rewards drop down to 1%. Perhaps more important, you must have a Sam's Club membership to get this card, which starts at $45 a year for a basic plan. The  doesn't require you to be a Ducks Unlimited member. Anyone can apply.

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Every credit card has only so much value to pass along to the consumer, and choosing a card means making trade-offs in how you get that value. The delivers most of its value with unlimited 5% rewards on gas and a  annual fee. Here are the trade-offs involved.

Narrow rewards categories. Although the is generous on gas and sporting goods purchases, other cards offer elevated rewards across a wider array of common expenses.

No sign-up bonus. Although a meaty welcome offer shouldn't be the only reason you choose a credit card, it ups the appeal when you're weighing similar options. If you're expressly in the market for elevated earnings on gas and you want a juicy bonus, consider a card like the . It earns 3% back on a category of your choice — with gas as one of the options — and 2% back on grocery stores and wholesale clubs, on the first $2,500 per quarter in combined bonus category/grocery store/wholesale club spending. All other spending earns 1% back. The sign-up offer is worth a few tanks of gas itself.

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Redemption limitations. Rewards on this card expire on the fifth anniversary of the date they were awarded. If you're someone who rarely cashes in, this could be a problem. And although you have the flexibility to redeem rewards as a statement credit, a deposit into a checking or savings account, or a mailed check — it must be in set increments of $25, $50, $100, $250 or $1,000.

The offers bountiful rewards for someone solely seeking the best return on their gas spending. If you're a rideshare or delivery driver, a long-haul commuter or a parent stuck in an endless loop of carpooling to activities, the cash back on this card could put hundreds of dollars a year into your pocket.

If you're just an average driver, though, or you want a more well-rounded choice beyond fueling up, another card will be more rewarding over the long haul.

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