Gas Rewards program comparison

It might be the only thing that makes you feel better about dropping a couple hundred bucks at the grocery store.  As you fill up your cart, at least you know you're racking up savings at the gas station.  But there are some tricks hidden inside those reward programs, buried deep in the fine print.

SPECIAL SECTION | Program comparison

You feel the squeeze with every penny jump but you're helpless to stop the climb as gas prices grow cent by cent.  You can roll back your cost with a little help.  That sounds good to Rose Stepney, "Everybody should try to get every discount that we can."

Gas reward programs make it seem easy to get those discounts.  But are you really saving a chunk of money with rewards or just pinching a few pennies off the price?  The answer may be in the fine print.  AAA MidAtlantic spokeswoman Christine Delise says, "We caution consumers to just do their homework before enrolling in these programs."

Some of those programs advertise huge savings, saying you can drop a dollar on pump prices or save with every purchase every day.  But we checked the rules written behind all that bold print, looking at four gas reward programs you'll find locally at Giant, Safeway, Sunoco and Weis markets.

We found lots of restrictions you may not have read, starting with what counts toward your points.  At Sunoco, the items that help you save at the pump rotate and so do the savings, so you've got to check their flyer.  Giant, Safeway and Weis all exclude some items, so when you're cruising the aisles keep in mind things like milk, prescriptions and gift cards may not count depending on where you shop.

Shopper Sarah Hawkins is already aware of what counts toward her point total.  She says, "I track everything to an extent."  And she makes sure her points don't spoil, "I have to kind of time filling up my car with going to the grocery store because I only have 30 days to do it."

That's because these savings have a shelf life and it's anywhere from 30 to 60 days.  If you don't use them you lose them.  Shopper Sharon Farrow was cashing in when we approached her at a Nottingham Shell station.  She says, "I used them today.  Unfortunately I only had 190 or something so you only get 10 cents." 

Farrow she says she's saved even more thanks to her Giant rewards, "I've gotten as much as $1.20 off and 90-cents a bunch of times."  It's a good deal when prices at the pump are steep.  But with Giant, Safeway and Sunoco, there is a cap on how much you can save.

Giant caps potential discounts at $2.20 a gallon according to their website, while Safeway stops at $1.00.  Weis' website says the store will let you stack up points until your gas is free, but you have to fill up at Weis Gas N' Go's or Sheetz.  AAA's Christine Delise warns in that case, "It may not make sense.  You'll end up spending money driving out of your way to go to a participating gas station."

With these programs, keep in mind you're also limited on where you can fill up.  While Giant has ties to Shell gas station and its numerous locations, Safeway stores with fueling options are slightly more limited.  You can check their website for the closest location to your route.  We contacted more than a dozen Sunoco  locations in the Baltimore area and found just a handful of stores that offer and use A-Plus rewards locally.

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