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The Best Gas Credit Cards are Right Next to the Worst

May 28, 2011
Credit Cards
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While many gas credit cards do help to defray the rising costs of driving, some are not particularly useful. Limits on rewards, restrictions on eligible gas stations and even constraints on what type of gas counts render a few gas credit cards next to useless. However, for the most part, those low-grade cards are offered right next to some of the best. Gas credit card issuers, it seems, don’t go for half measures.

Shell Credit Cards

Worst: Shell Drive for Five

The Drive for Five’s rewards sound great: 5 cents back on every gallon of gas. However, the rewards kick in if and only if you buy 45 gallons from Shell every month. The average American consumer runs through about 40 gallons a month, so you’d have to 1) fill up more than most and 2) fill up only at Shell, which means potentially missing out on cheaper gas prices. Even if you did make the 45-gallon cutoff, you only earn 1.25% rewards on gas (and no rewards on other purchases). This is a pretty low rewards rate – many non-gas-rewards cards do better.

Best: Shell Select Member Card

The Shell Select doesn’t actually give rewards on gas, but it does give great rewards on domestic travel. It gives 10% cash back at the Hilton, Ramada, Holiday Inn and others, so long as you book through Shell’s reservation system. It also pays out 5% back on any US airline, including United, Delta and American, and on all major car rentals. The Shell credit card also offers hotel discounts – according to its website, 50% off on 5,000 hotels and 30% off on an additional 8,000 – though we can’t say whether the discount makes up for forgoing travel sites like Orbitz or Expedia. It comes with a $25 annual fee, but if you spend more than $250 on domestic hotels alone, you’ve made up for it. The Shell Select also has travel perks like travel interruption insurance. Very few credit cards give this good of a rewards rate on travel: branded airline cards usually give only 3% on their airline, and the top two mile-earning cards (the Discover Escape and the Capital One Venture Rewards) earn 2% all around but no additional rewards on travel.

BP Credit Cards

Worst: BP Credit Card

The BP Credit Card (not to be confused with the BP Visa credit card) has just plain awful rewards. It gives 2% back on Amoco fuel purchases, and nothing else. But Amoco fuel is expensive. Really, really expensive. It’s the ultra-premium-super-[insert superlative here] gas that cleans out your engine and leaves it smelling like French vanilla. The Amoco Ultimate, though, comes with a 15-cent-plus markup over regular gas, which kills the rewards and then some. Even if you use Amoco Ultimate all the time, you’re better off with BP’s other credit card.

Best: BP Visa

Oh, the difference a word makes. The BP Visa earns, as a base rewards rate, 5% back on BP gas, 2% on travel and dining, and 1% everywhere else. The kicker, though, is that rewards are doubled in the first 60 days – 10%, 4% and 2% back. The rewards overall are uncapped, and BP gas rewards are limited to the first $500 spent on gas per month (125 gallons per month), a fairly unrestrictive limit. Even if you don’t go to BP all that much, the short-term boost makes the BP credit card worthwhile.

An honorable mention goes to the AmEx Blue Cash Preferred. For a $75 annual fee, it earns 6% rewards at grocery stores as well as 3% on gas and department stores and 1% elsewhere. The 3% gas rewards rate is pretty unusual, but it’s the 6% rate at supermarkets that puts the card over the top.