In an effort to help people combat rising gas prices, local newspapers and radio stations across the country have taken to reporting the cheapest prices wherever they can find them, and urban commuters have taken to car-pooling to curb their gas use.
Even at the pumps themselves, gas companies are offering rebates on fuel. And now the credit card companies and auto manufacturers are joining in, offering their own programs to help save you money at the pumps.
But don't expect these cards and incentives to bring your bill down all that much. For some, a year's worth of accumulated points won't even amount to a free tank of gas. So, we've amassed a list of gas rebate programs to see just how rewarding they are.
Fill 'er up
In 1994, Torontonians paid 49.8 cents a litre to fill up their gas tanks. By 2004, that rose to almost 77 cents. And two years later, well, you know the story. Today, we're up to about loonie a litre, and only the gas gods know how high it will go. In an effort to keep us feeling good about filling up, most major retail gas companies now offer some kind of rebate program.
Sunoco, for example, offers a rebate card in conjunction with the Canadian Automotive Association, or CAA. "The average fuel purchase is 1,200 litres per year, and this would result in $24 of credits only on their fuel purchase," says Terrianne Teigan, director of marketing for Sunoco.
That amount is redeemable at the end of the year to ensure customers have met the threshold criteria says Teigan. Both CAA points and Sunoco points are totaled and can be redeemed for gas or other CAA products. However, you have to be a CAA member to get this rebate; a regular CAA membership runs about $78 a year.
Esso also has a program called Esso Extra Points in which customers earn points from their purchases that they can then redeem for gas or merchandise at participating retailers. You get one point for every dollar you spend and can redeem them for gas at any time.
Therefore, 1,800 points equals $10 of gas, 3,500 points equals $20 of gas and 4,300 points equals $25 of gas. However, if you buy higher grades of gas, you can collect more points -- Supreme fetches four points a litre, but consider that higher grades will typically cost an additional 10 cents to 15 cents a litre.
Esso customers can also exchange their points for HBC, Hudson Bay Company, or RBC, Royal Bank of Canada, reward points and use those toward merchandise. Be sure to redeem your points sooner than later, as most expire after 24 months of inactivity.
Petro-Canada also has a rebate program known as Petro-Points. It's free to sign up for or you can earn points with a Citi Petro-Points MasterCard or your Sears Card. You get 10 points for every dollar you spend on gas and can redeem them for gasoline (18,000 points will get you $10 in gas, while 35,000 points will get you $20 worth) or a range of gift cards and travel rewards with selected companies.
While these point programs sound good, it may take a long time to earn rewards. For those of us with small cars, collecting points and being loyal to one gas company may not be worth it in the end. I drive a Toyota Echo and spend only $70 a month on regular gas, so it would take almost two years to earn $10 of free gas with Esso.
Credit card companies have jumped on the gas rebate bandwagon, too. And unlike a gas company card, which requires you to shop at a particular brand of station to earn and redeem points, most credit cards don't have allegiance to any one gas company. This allows you more flexibility to choose where you buy your gas.
But like most credit cards, the fine print in the terms and conditions reveal some surprising details. And unlike the numerous gas rebate cards offered in the United States, the selection in Canada is slim so far.
The Citi Dividend Platinum Select card, owned by MasterCard, for example, requires users to request their rebates, which are "payable in cheques of $50 or more only upon your request," to a maximum of $300 a year. But points can also be collected at drug stores and supermarkets, in addition to any gas station.
Visa offers a gas rebate credit card but only in conjunction with Esso, where users can earn two or more Esso Extra points for every eligible dollar spent at Esso gas stations.
And even though Costco gas stations exist only in Quebec and British Columbia, all Costco members can collect rebates to be used at the company's gas stations and stores.
As with all credit and charge cards, don't forget about the
interest rates, which vary between 11 per cent and 19 per cent. Unless you pay off your balance every month, your interest charges may gobble up your potential gas savings.
Car companies are also starting to offer gas rebates. For almost every new leased car, General Motors offers buyers a gas rebate card, which is activated at the dealership. "The customer then presents this card when they purchase gas at a Petro-Canada station and they are given 20 cents off per litre of the posted per litre price," says Patty Faith, manager of media relations for GM.
The card is valid for as many as 2,500 litres of gas and can only be used at Petro-Canada stations. So, if you're running on empty and have to fill up at the nearest station and it isn't a Petro-Can, you won't receive the rebate.
Is it worth the drive for cheaper gas?
If these figures don't add up for you, perhaps you have a small car like me, then check your local newspaper or the web for low gas prices.
OttawaGasPrices.com has become a daily stop for many drivers in the nation's capital: "(We've had) over 6 million visitors in the past seven years, and hundreds of price submissions each day from motorists," says site operator Glen Gower.
It may also be worth your while to drive to a gas station that is farther away for cheaper gas. To figure out if the lower price is worth the gas you'll spend getting to the station, check out Bankrate.ca's
gasoline price calculator.
Melanie Chambers is a freelance writer in London, Ontario.