The Question of Cash vs. Credit - Running with Miles
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The Question of Cash vs. Credit

Written by Charlie

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The question of cash vs credit is very easy to answer when it comes to most items. I cannot tell you how many times I have been behind someone in line at a store like Best Buy and watched someone pull $2,000 out of their pocket to pay for a television. I just stand there thinking about the points they let slip away as well as the extra protection offered by credit cards (with warranty and price protection). I understand that, for some people, it is better for them to use cash and lose out on points than to use a credit card that they cannot control themselves with – and that is not what I am talking about with this.

The Question of Cash vs Credit

But, there is one category where the question of cash vs credit is becoming more prevalent. That category is gas stations. When I got back to the US, I could not believe how many gas stations had begun to adopt the price gap between paying with cash or credit. That was non-existent in my part of NY in 2013 but now many of the gas stations are using this price structure. I know that many large travel stations already do this, but I had not seen so many smaller stations grabbing on until now.

From Forbes

From Forbes

To be honest, I am surprised they have waited this long. Gas stations really do not have a high profit margin on fuel. In fact, I have heard from owners that they would rather you come into their station and buy a cup of coffee than buy several gallons of fuel. In addition to the low profit margin, they are also having to pay the processing fees on cards. To hike the price for credit card users (or drop the price for cash users) is a good way for the owners to cover themselves a little bit. That does mean I am happy with it, though! 🙂

Looking At The Numbers

I have seen several stations with the price difference ranging from 5 cents to 10 cents per gallon. The majority of the stations I saw did have a 10 cent per gallon gap. At the average gas price in my area of NY, the price is $3.83 per gallon. To pay 10 cents more per gallon to use your credit card means that you are paying 2.6% more for your points. If you are using a Chase Ink Bold/Plus or American Express Premier Rewards Gold card, you are earning 2 points per dollar. Even if you put your point valuation into the equation, you are still paying a bit for those points instead of paying with cash.

A lot of it comes down to how badly you need the points or the credit card spend. It can also matter if you have cash on you when you stop at the station! I often do not have enough cash on my person to cover a large gas purchase (I use cards for everything), so I have to default to credit card. The alternative is to drive to another station that does not use a price gap, but then I am wasting time and gas money to save a bit.

Earning Alternatives

There are cards like the PenFed Platinum Visa which allows you to earn up to 5% cash back on gas purchases, in which case you may well prefer to use your card even when there is a price gap.

cash vs credit

Earn 5% cashback on gas

Some other options involve purchasing gift cards. You can buy gift cards at office supply stores for many gas stations. If you do that with a Chase Ink card, you will earn 5 points per dollar on those purchases plus you can pay the cash price! That may depend on which station you are buying gift cards for. Shell gift cards are widely available but Shell prices are higher than other stations in many areas. An alternative is Chevron which does have competitive prices in many markets. So, not only are you earning 5 points per dollar but you are also paying the cheaper price.

If your preferred gas station does not have gift cards at office supply stores, you can still purchase those gift cards at the gas stations themselves. This will still give you the cheaper gas prices plus the possibility of earning the bonus points (depending on how the gas station codes the in-store purchases).

So, what are gas prices like in your area? Do you see a lot of price gaps? What are some of your tips for gas savings and points?

Editorial Note - Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

Some of the links on this site are affiliate links that will support this site. Thank you for your support.

About the author

Charlie

Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.

9 Comments

  • I have not seen that here in Ohio. I thought that it was possibly illegal (or against the terms of most places agreements with the CC companies) to charge a different price for credit vs. cash?

    Clearly based on your experience that doesn’t appear to be true but in Ohio I have never seen a difference.

    • As I understand it, charging a premium for credit is also illegal in Texas. One thing that isn’t illegal however is to provide a “discount” for using cash.

      So, gas stations can stay on the legal side by just saying their credit price is their official price, and that they offer discounts for customers using cash.

      I’ve not tried contacting Visa/Mastercard about it, but I think that violates their agreements.

  • Nothing like that here in Memphis. I remember cash vs credit pricing back in the 80s but I thought it was ruled illegal at the time. Haven’t seen it back since. Of course the sign in your photo is about 80-90 cents higher per gallon than what we’re paying!

  • If someone pulls out a wad of notes to pay for a big item chances are some income taxes have been skirted. On fuel – near us once place offers something like a 20-30c / gallon discount for cash or debit card.

  • A discount for paying with cash at gas stations is occasionally found in Missouri, along with a fee for credit card usage at some B&M. The best reason to not cash the paycheck or hit the ATM to shop, is that thieves know it common around the Holidays. Why get mugged in Best Buy parking lot.

  • Haven’t seen this in Colorado either. But I’m not necessarily against it. I would rather businesses of all types add a small surcharge for credit card usage, rather than deny credit card purchases entirely. I like to use CCs for just about every purchase – for the points and the convenience. It always irks me when I pull out the Amex only to be met with a “we don’t accept that because their service fees are too high”.

  • That shit will not fly in canada, having 2 prices for cash credit/debit, why would you charge different for debit, as if you want to be going about the US carrying lots of cash… no thank you….

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