Best ways to save at the pump: do you need a bonus card?

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - It's probably one of the most dreaded chores of drivers today. When the gas light comes on, and you know it's time to fill the tank. It's not only time consuming, but it can drain your pockets with today's prices.

Prices continue to climb, and consumers have noticed.

Dr. Mark Mitchell, Chair of Department of Management, Marketing & Resort Tourism explains, "For some folks, gasoline seems to be a real hot button product. They don't know what a loaf of bread costs, they don't know what a pound of spaghetti costs, but they know what the current price of gas is."

Mitchell says consumers will shop around for the best price, allowing gas stations and grocers who offer fuel to compete for your business.

"Some folks will drive across town to save two cents per gallon," says Mitchell. "If you're motivated to save money, then you'll spend time looking for better deals."

The motivation to find the best price drives retailers to offer incentives to their customers.

"I ended up saving a whole lot of money!" exclaims consumer Suzanne Stonefield.

Stonefield is a Bi-Lo shopper.

When an associate told her she had Fuelperks available on her bonus card, Stonefield didn't hesitate to try it out at the gas pump.

In fact, Stonefield says the price she paid with the discount may take some drivers back a decade. "I only paid $1.10 for gas, and I was like 'whoo-hoo!'"

Stonefield's reaction is a marketer's dream, but she says the celebration didn't last long.

"It was so difficult to find the right gas station and remember to use my points before they ran out that I just never used it again. It was too much of a hassle," admits Stonefield.

That said, WMBF News took a look into how the fuel savings programs work.

When a consumer purchases a certain amount of goods at the grocery store, they get a discount on gas at the store's fuel partner.

For example, if you use Bi-Lo's fuel perks card, the store will give you a five cents per gallon discount at participating stations for every $50 you spend at the grocery store.

Kroger just started its fuel rewards program in the Grand Strand and Pee Dee. It gives 10 cents off per gallon at Shell gas stations if you spend $100 while grocery shopping.

"What we're doing is offering savings to customers on everyday purchases that they already make," reveals Shell manager Chuck Sanders.

Stephanie Ryals, Bonus Card Marketing Manager, says, "Our customers have saved a lot of money using bonus cards. We have 3.2 million households that have the bonus card and most are enjoying Fuelperks, getting savings every day."

Mitchell thinks the promotions work because they are easy for shoppers to use.

"The good thing about these programs is it doesn't really require you to do any change in your behavior. You don't have to clip a coupon. Scan your card, do your shopping, we'll track it, we'll tell you how much you saved," explains Mitchell.

The question is, are you really saving?

Let's say you spend $75 grocery shopping twice a month. Over a two month period you'll rack up $300 in receipts.

With both Bi-Lo Fuelperks and Kroger's Fuel Rewards, you'll have 30 points stored for a gas discount.

Now, here's where the programs differ. If you were to stop at a Bi-Lo Fuelperks station, you could apply the whole 30 cent per gallon discount to your purchase.

So the price, for example, would drop from $2.95 to $2.65 per gallon.

A nice savings.

Even though you've accrued 30 points on your Kroger card, when you visit a Kroger Fuel Partner, you can only use a 10 cent per gallon discount per visit.

Which means, with gas sitting at $2.95, you could pump for $2.85. You'd also be able to make two more visits at 10 cents off.

To put a little pressure on consumers, stores usually have expiration dates for fuel points.

Bi-Lo's program gives shoppers up to four months to use their discount while Kroger's new program is bit shorter.

"The points expire at the end of the following month of when the points were accrued, so you could get up to 60 days to use those," states Sanders.

If you don't want to be limited by time, you may consider visiting a discount station with no expiration date.

Membership type warehouses, like Costco and Sam's Club, continually undercut mainstream stations with lower prices.

The cheapest membership at the warehouse is $50 a year, but you don't have to accrue any points or rewards to fill up with the cheaper gas.

If the savings aren't easily obtainable, however, Mitchell says shoppers will do without.

"If the gas station is not close to the store, consumers might not drive to get the savings," predicts Mitchell.

Location is a big reason Stonefield says she doesn't regularly use her fFelperks card.

"They just need more gas stations, or have it be every gas station, or the one that's right across the street from the Bi-Lo," Stonefield suggests.

To find the least expensive gas in your area, use the zip code map below.

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