Earning Cash Back on Gift Cards with Fuel Points

Given the absence of Vanilla Reloads in the Pacific Northwest, purchasing gift cards at a grocery store is the next best thing to reload my Bluebird card. I can purchase them using a variety of credit cards, including some that earn bonus points at grocery stores, and then assign a PIN to make them function like any other debit card. I’ve never had a problem whether reloading at a Walmart register or a MoneyCenter ATM.

But we are fortunate that we also have QFC supermarkets here. (Parent company Kroger operates supermarkets throughout the U.S., but I never saw any growing up in California.) QFC Advantage Cards earn fuel points on almost all purchases, including gift cards. Spend $100, earn 100 fuel points, and get 10 cents off per gallon. Spend $1,000, earn 1,000 fuel points, and get $1 off per gallon. Unfortunately it’s capped at $1 off per gallon, but two $500 gift cards easily clear the spending hurdle.

QFC and Shell

My car only holds 12 gallons, so I can save up to $12 every time I buy gas. That perfectly offsets the $12 in activation fees I pay on those two $500 gift cards, and now Megan can finally stop complaining about all the gas I burn driving to Walmart and the airport. ;) If you have a larger tank, fuel points can be used to offset the cost of up to 35 gallons per purchase.

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Are you worried that this is some secret glitch and I’m going to ruin the deal? Don’t be. The FAQs on Shell’s website clearly encourage earning points for gift card purchases:

Are there other ways to earn Fuel Points beyond using my loyalty card when I buy groceries?

Fuel Points can be earned by purchasing prescriptions or gift cards at QFC. Customers earn 50 Fuel Points for each filled eligible prescription and two Fuel Points for every dollar spent on third party gift cards from QFC’s in-store Gift Card Malls. Visit any QFC store for details. Fuel Points will be automatically added to QFC Advantage Card accounts and will be reflected on the customers’ grocery receipt after every purchase.

The exception is that these Visa, MasterCard, and American Express gift cards only earn 1 fuel point per dollar, while most other merchant gift cards earn 2 fuel points per dollar. But I’m not complaining.

Some people have complained they earn more fuel points than they know what to do with. The rumor I’ve heard is that some people just sign up for a new QFC Advantage Card with every purchase. They don’t collect registration details at the register, and since 1,000 points are worth up to $35, they can be sold on eBay to others.

I honestly never paid attention to fuel points before this past month. Shell tends to have more expensive gas around where I live, and I am normally loyal to Rick’s Chevron in my neighborhood (Maple Leaf 4 Life!). But $12 is $12. It’s just another way to help offset the costs of buying gift cards.

Scott created Hack My Trip after learning how to travel better on a budget during grad school. He now flies over 150,000 miles every year.
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  • AKold

    Btw, Kroger = Ralphs in CA. I use my Kroger Plus cards at those stores.

    • http://twitter.com/TravelSummary Travel Summary

      My ralphs says I can only save 20 cents per gallon at Shell – is it the same for you? I haven’t really been taking advantage of it because of this cap.

  • HikerT

    You must not be reading the same terms I am:

    http://www.qfc.com/fuel/Pages/B1.aspx

    The “rules of the road” specifically exclude Variable Load Gift Cards from earning points. Better to not highlight the glitch IMO.

    • Rick

      This is what I have in mind as soon as I read the title of the post. There is even a FT thread that people report whether they receive (or not receive) fuel points from purchasing the variable load gift cards.

    • Scottrick

      Hmmm. I saw a disclaimer that said 2 points for most gift cards and 1 point for Visa/MC/Amex gift cards. I did not see the rule against variable load, so thanks for bringing that to my attention.

      Personally, I am not too concerned. I could still buy UR points at the same cost, despite lower value cards, by using my Ink Bold at Office Depot stores. The 5X bonus balances out the lower $200 maximum value.

    • Michelle S

      Unfortunately Safeway (who also has a gas rewards program) caught on to this a while ago.

  • jim

    i have bunch of $500 visa debit gift cards sitting in my drawyer. I can’t load these on my BB any more cos the $5k limit is reached. I can buy money orders and deposit on my chase checking account but I fear getting shut down by chase if I do it often. Is there any other away to cash out MONEY ORDERS or visa gift cards?

  • magnus

    If you’re going to fill up at a gas station (Shell) that is more expensive than your normal station, $12 isn’t really $12 anymore. An extreme case would be if you had a Sams Club or Costco nearby which is often $0.50 cheaper than Shell. Then you’d only be saving $0.50 per gallon or $6 for a $12 activation.

    Also, another reason to worry, if you’re into that sort of thing, is that the $1.00/gallon max discount is a limited time promotion. It used to be that you could save at most $0.10/gallon. Hopefully, this limited time promotion lasts a loooong time. =)

    • Scottrick

      Didn’t know it was limited time. Thanks for the warning.

  • http://twitter.com/bitachu michael shimada

    why not fill up two cars(at the same pump)..take coordination but sounds dooable..

  • Ryan

    Programs definitely differ…locally I do not get fuel rewards points for gift card purchases at Stop & Shop

  • http://twitter.com/CuriousXplorer Curious Explorer

    Hey have you found out if any gift cards from Fred Meyer’s or Carrs-Safeway come with a PIN? Up here in AK those are the only grocery stores we’ve got. I’ve been getting gift cards from Walmart to feed my bluebird for now but would rather get grocery reward points in addition if I could.

    • Scottrick

      Fred Meyer’s is owned by Kroger and probably carries the same cards as QFC. I find the Visa cards issued by US Bank are the easiest for me. I’ve written more about this here:

      http://hackmytrip.com/2013/04/which-gift-cards-easiest-use-with-pin/

      • HikerT

        Fred Meyer no longer gives fuel reward points on variable load gift card purchases. Same fuel rewards program. Just a matter of time… Probably best not to highlight.

  • choi

    Hey Scott, you used to live down here in the OC, we have Raphs with the similar program but havent tried to buy gas yet.

  • Steven

    I use to use all your credit card referral links, But I can’t stay I agree with you exploiting a technicality and highlighting it all over the web. Very low, this puts you on status with TPG. Congrats. and No more Referral Clicks for you.

  • zemmer

    Bad news. The QFC I have been frequenting for this Hack told me today for the first time that I could not purchase the variable visa with a credit card today. If they are losing 10 bucks plus the credit card fee each time someone buys 1000 $ in gift cards and fills their 18 gallon tank, it’s no wonder they’re tightening the screws.

    • Scottrick

      Well that’s unfortunate. As others have pointed out, you aren’t supposed to be able to earn points for variable load cards, only for other fixed-value cards. They could just fix the loophole. In my opinion, the real reason for denying purchases with credit cards is the same used by Office Depot, Walgreens, and others — the risk of fraud.

    • andy

      Hi zemmer,
      Do you mind sharing which QFC this was?

  • Devon Pack

    I’ve tried 3 Krogers in Louisville, KY and they all gave me fuel points even though their signs say they don’t. I’ve had no issues until today when the lady cashier asked me 3 times “are you sure you want $500 on each?”. I was buying 2 $500 visas. The last time she said “that’s a lot”. I said yes mam that’s the maximum and that’s what I want. I don’t know why she cared.

    I also buy a Kroger gift card(gets me no fuel points) as it gets me 6 pts on my Hilton card and I’m trying to maximize those now. Then I use the Kroger gc at the Kroger gas essentially earning 6 pts on my gas purchases.