Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Business

Rewards program saves U.S. drivers millions at gas stations

At a time when most Americans are paying more at the pump, Roger Tate of Wesley Chapel hasn't paid full price for gas in a year.

That's because he's enrolled in the Fuel Rewards Network, a free loyalty program that offers gas discounts at Shell stations on purchases made at hundreds of retailers and restaurants.

Discounts range from 5 cents per gallon for every $50 spent at a Winn-Dixie store to 10 cents per gallon for every $50 purchase at a participating restaurant. Members redeem rewards by sliding their card at the pump, which takes the discounts off the regular price of gasoline.

Tate, 52, estimates he has saved hundreds of dollars on gas since he joined the program. He eats at restaurants that offer rewards and books hotels and airline tickets through partner companies, which pay to join the network. For most fillups, he pays less than $2 per gallon.

"It gives you a good feeling that you're not paying regular price for gas," said Tate, a field representative for Excentus, the Dallas-based company that created the rewards program. "You're going to purchase things anyway. You might as well get rewarded for it."

Nationwide, the year-old program has saved consumers nearly $175 million, with a goal of reaching $1 billion. To spread the word, promoters are visiting grocery stores and Shell stations as part of the Great American Fuel Price Relief Tour. The tour began in the Tampa Bay area this month and concludes next week after stops at several area Winn-Dixie stores.

The tour comes at an ideal time. Gas prices are on the rise locally and nationwide and show few signs of subsiding in the coming weeks. A gallon of regular unleaded gas in the Tampa Bay area costs $3.51 on average, according to AAA. That's up from $3.44 a month ago and $3.38 a year ago.

AAA officials said they had not received inquiries about the Fuel Rewards Network but noted that people typically don't start reacting to gas prices until the cost reaches $4 or $4.25 per gallon.

"We're not at that breaking point yet where we're seeing changes in behavior," said AAA spokeswoman Jessica Brady.

When they do start feeling the pinch, she said, a recent AAA survey found that people respond first by cutting back on shopping and dining out, followed by staying with friends instead of at a hotel, and shortening vacations.

Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110.

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