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NerdWallet’s Best Gas Cards of 2016

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NerdWallet's Best Gas Cards

Gas prices have retreated from their dizzying climb of recent years, but fuel is still a major budget category for many households. Whether you commute to work by car or enjoy weekend road trips, you may be looking for ways to reduce your pain at the pump.

You can do better than the branded gas cards offered by the Chevrons and Sunocos of the world. (Here’s why that is.) Instead, the Nerds recommend these credit cards for their stellar rewards on gas station purchases.

NerdWallet’s best gas credit cards

Best for … Card
Gas bonus categories (tie) Chase Freedom®
Discover it®- 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer
Cash back Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
Credit union cards PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card

Best for bonus categories (tie)

Chase Freedom®

Apply Now on Chase's secure website

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • 5% rewards on rotating categories
  • Access to Chase’s Ultimate Rewards site to earn more cash back

Cons

  • If you value simplicity, a flat rate cash back card may be better
  • A foreign transaction fee

Bonus Offer

Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR Promotions

0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months

APR

  • APR: 14.24% - 23.24% Variable APR
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.24%, Variable

Card Details

  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - it's automatic
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 14.24-23.24%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • Enjoy new 5% categories every 3 months like gas stations, restaurants, and wholesale clubs
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
  • No annual fee

Annual fee of $0. Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in spending in quarterly rotating bonus categories, including gas, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.24% - 23.24% Variable APR. 3% foreign transaction fee.

Benefits of the Chase Freedom®:

  • Rotating bonus categories include gas stations, restaurants, select grocery stores and wholesale clubs.
  • During the months when gas station purchases receive a 5% bonus (the first quarter in 2016; last year, it was the third quarter), the bonus isn’t just limited to the gas pump. So go ahead and get a soda and a bag of chips in the mini mart.
  • There’s a great sign-up bonus: Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.

Drawbacks of the Chase Freedom®:

  • The  Chase Freedom® used to be an even better card for people who buy a lot of gas. In the past, gas was a bonus category in two different quarters each year. Now it’s been reduced to one quarter. Still a great deal, but for half as much time as before.
  • Forgot to activate your bonus category? You won’t get that 5% cash back — just the standard 1% you’re getting on everything else.
  • Because of the foreign transaction fee, we’d suggest leaving this card at home the next time you travel outside the U.S.

Bottom line:

The  Chase Freedom® is one of our favorite cards. If you don’t mind keeping track of changing bonus categories, it can be a solid way to earn cash back on common everyday purchases, including gas. For best results, though, we’d suggest coupling it with the Discover it®- 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer. That way, you might earn that juicy 5% cash back during two quarters each year.

Best for bonus categories (tie)

Discover it®- 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer

Apply Now on Discover's secure website

Pros

  • Bonus cash back categories
  • No annual fee
  • 0% on Purchases for 6 months and 0% on Balance Transfers for 18 months
  • No foreign transaction fee

Cons

  • Slightly less merchant acceptance for Discover in US - acceptance outside of US can be an issue
  • If you value simplicity, a flat rate cash back card may be better

Bonus Offer

You could turn $200 into $400 with Cashback Match™. We’ll automatically match all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year. New cardmembers only.

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR Promotions

0% on Purchases for 6 months and 0% on Balance Transfers for 18 months

APR

  • APR: 11.24% - 23.24% Variable APR
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.24%, Variable

Card Details

  • You could turn $200 into $400 with Cashback Match™. We’ll automatically match all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year. New cardmembers only.
  • Earn 5% cash back in new bonus categories like gas, restaurants, Amazon.com, Sam’s Club and more, on up to $1,500 in purchases every quarter you activate. Plus, unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Redeem your cash back for any amount, any time. Cash rewards never expire.
  • 100% U.S. based customer service.
  • FICO® Credit Scores for free on statements and online.
  • No annual fee.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.

Annual fee of $0. Earn 5% back on rotating bonus categories, up to $1,500 in spending, and 1% back on all other purchases. Introductory APR of 0% on Purchases for 6 months and 0% on Balance Transfers for 18 months, and then the ongoing APR of 11.24% - 23.24% Variable APR. No foreign transaction fees.

Benefits of the Discover it®- 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer:

  • Like the  Chase Freedom®, you’ll earn the princely sum of 5% cash back on gas station purchases during one quarter of the year (the first quarter in 2016.)
  • In your first year of membership, you’ll actually be earning 10% back on bonus category purchases because Discover doubles your rewards for 12 months after you become a cardholder. Getting 10% back on gas for a year could significantly reduce your commuting costs.
  • If you want to transfer debt from another card, the Discover it®- 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer has a nice long introductory APR period: 0% on Purchases for 6 months and 0% on Balance Transfers for 18 months, and then the ongoing APR of 11.24% - 23.24% Variable APR.

Drawbacks of the Discover it®- 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer:

  • There are no foreign transaction fees, but it can be hard to find a merchant who accepts Discover in some international destinations.
  • Again, you have to keep track of the bonus categories and activate them each quarter.

Bottom line:

Another NerdWallet favorite, the Discover it®- 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer is a great card for people who want to maximize their cash back and don’t mind changing bonus categories every three months. The doubled cash back in the first year makes this card hard to top. If you really want to reduce your fuel spending, pair this with the  Chase Freedom® so you can have two quarters per year earning higher rewards on gas.

Best for cash back

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Apply Now on American Express's secure website

Pros

  • Leading cash back rewards for groceries
  • Sign-up bonus
  • 0% APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers

Cons

  • Has annual fee - but if you spend more than $31/week the rewards offset the fees
  • American Express isn’t accepted at as many merchants as Visa or MasterCard

Bonus Offer

Special Offer - Earn 5% cash back on eligible travel purchases in the first 6 months, up to $200. Plus, earn $150 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months. Terms Apply

Annual Fee

$95

Intro APR Promotions

0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 12 months

APR

  • APR: 13.24% - 23.24% Variable APR
  • Penalty APR: Up to 29.49%, Variable
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.49%, Variable

Card Details

  • Special Offer - Earn 5% cash back on eligible travel purchases in the first 6 months, up to $200.
  • Plus, earn $150 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months.
  • You will receive cash back in the form of statement credits.
  • Everyday Cash Back: 6% at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%); 3% at U.S. gas stations; 1% other purchases. Terms and limitations apply.
  • No rotating reward categories. No enrollment required.
  • Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit. You can only earn cash back on eligible purchases.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months, then a variable rate, currently 13.24% to 23.24%, based on your creditworthiness and other factors.
  • Terms and Conditions apply.
  • View Rates and Fees

Annual fee of $95. Earn an unlimited 3% cash back on gas station purchases, 6% back on up to $6,000 worth of grocery store purchases per year, and 1% back on all other purchases. Introductory APR of 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 12 months, and then the ongoing APR of 13.24% - 23.24% Variable APR. Special Offer - Earn 5% cash back on eligible travel purchases in the first 6 months, up to $200. Plus, earn $150 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months. Terms Apply

Benefits of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express:

  • Earning an unlimited 3% back on gas station purchases year round is pretty hard to beat.
  • You won’t have to keep track of rotating bonus categories.
  • You’ll also get 6% back at grocery stores on up to $6,000 in spending a year. That’s $500 per month in spending — enough for most smaller households.

Drawbacks of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express:

  • Paying an annual fee of $95 is not ideal. If you prefer a card without an annual fee, the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express has lower rewards at gas stations (2%) but an annual fee of $0.
  • Larger families will likely hit the spending cap on grocery rewards. After that, they’ll only earn 1%.
  • American Express isn’t as widely accepted as Visa or MasterCard, so if you like to carry only one credit card, this probably isn’t your best bet.

Bottom line:

This card’s rewards structure is unusually generous to people who spend a lot on gas. We especially like that it’s unlimited, so even if you’re a salesperson with a multi-state territory or if you’re dating someone in the next time zone, you’ll be able to fill your tank all year long without getting bumped down to a lower rewards rate. If you drive a lot, the annual fee may be worth it. If not, consider the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express or one of the bonus category cards instead.

Best credit union gas card

PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card

Apply Now on Pentagon Federal Credit Union's secure website

Pros

  • Bonus cash back categories
  • No annual fee
  • 0% for 12 mos on transfers
  • No foreign transaction fee

Bonus Offer

$100 for spending $1500 in 3 months

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR Promotions

Purchase: None

Transfer: 0% for 12 mos

APR

  • Min APR: 10.24%, Variable
  • Max APR: 17.99%, Variable
  • Penalty APR: Up to 17.99%, Variable
  • Cash Advance APR: 17.99%, Variable

Card Details

  • $100 for spending $1500 in 3 months
  • Earn 5 points on gas purchases at the pump
  • Earn 3 points on supermarket Purchases
  • Earn 1 point on All Other Purchases
  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fees

The annual fee is $0. Earn 5 points per dollar spent at the pump, 3 points per dollar spent at supermarkets, and 1 point per dollar on all other spending. 

Benefits of the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card:

  • The annual fee is $0.
  • PenFed points are valued at a 1 cent each, so earning 5 points per dollar on gas purchases effectively means earning 5% back on gas.
  • There’s no cap on how much you spend on gas at the 5 points per dollar rewards rate.

Drawbacks of the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card:

  • You need excellent credit to qualify for this card.
  • You have to be a member of PenFed Credit Union. Ways to become eligible:
    • Be a member of the United States military
    • Be an employee of the United States government or other qualifying organization
    • Be an employee of or belong to a qualifying organization or association
    • Live or work at an eligible location
    • Be a relative or housemate to someone who is eligible
    • Make a one-time donation to Voices for America’s Troops ($14) or the National Military Family Association ($15).
  • PenFed points expire after 5 years, and redemption options are somewhat limited.
  • PenFed specifies that the higher rewards rate is for gas purchases made at the pump, so gas station convenience store purchases are excluded.

Bottom line:

Earning 5% back on gas all year, with no limit, is pretty appealing. That’s why the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card makes this list, in spite of the inconvenience of joining the credit union and the fact that applicants without excellent credit may be turned away. If you drive a lot and don’t mind the hassle of redeeming for gift cards instead of cash, this card will put the highest rewards back in your pocket after you fill your tank.

Last updated January 15, 2016.

Virginia C. McGuire is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: virginia@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @vcmcguire.