» This page is out of date
UPDATE April 1, 2020: The Ducks Unlimited Rewards Platinum Edition® Visa® Card has changed its rewards structure. 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 While 1.5% cash back is a decent rewards rate, this card is no longer especially valuable for gas, so this article is out of date.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 best credit cards for gas purchases for other options. Below is the article from when the 5% was still in effect.
Maybe you think NerdWallet's choice of the Ducks Unlimited Rewards Platinum Edition® Visa® Card as our award winner 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 $0-annual-fee Ducks Unlimited Rewards Platinum Edition® Visa® Card 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.
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 strong rewards on an array of common expenses — 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 Ducks Unlimited Rewards Platinum Edition® Visa® Card is simply the best gas card of 2020.
» MORE: How to choose a gas card
5% rewards with no hoops
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 Ducks Unlimited Rewards Platinum Edition® Visa® Card.
For example, both the Chase Freedom® and the Discover it® Cash Back regularly offer gas stations as a 5% cash back category. 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 Sam's Club® Mastercard® 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 Ducks Unlimited Rewards Platinum Edition® Visa® Card doesn't require you to be a Ducks Unlimited member. Anyone can apply.
What you won't get
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 Ducks Unlimited Rewards Platinum Edition® Visa® Card delivers most of its value with unlimited 5% rewards on gas and a $0 annual fee. Here are the trade-offs involved.
Narrow rewards categories. Although the Ducks Unlimited Rewards Platinum Edition® Visa® Card is generous on gas and sporting goods purchases, other cards offer elevated rewards across a wider array of common expenses. For example, the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card earns 3 points per dollar at gas stations — but also on eating out and ordering in, travel (including flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals), rideshares, transit and popular streaming services. All other spending earns 1 point per dollar.
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 Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card. 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.
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.
Should you get it?
The Ducks Unlimited Rewards Platinum Edition® Visa® Card 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.