New products, Rewards

Thanks for the 11-cent break, but can you make those gift cards reloadable?

Connie Prater

When I filled my car up with gas recently, I saved 11 cents per gallon off the current market price by using a retail store gift card.

That’s a good deal.

Several retailers around the country are offering similar deals to drive traffic to their stores. It’s apparently working as family budgets are being stretched more and more with the bad economy.
HEB gas pump.JPG
In Texas, the HEB grocery store chain is offering an 11-cent off deal through Oct. 31, 2011, at select locations. Walmart offers 10 cents off per gallon when you purchase gas at one of its stations using a Walmart gift card.

The HEB promotion requires you to get a store gift card, which is available for free at any checkout counter when you’re buying groceries. You simply tell the cashier how much you want loaded onto the card and it is added to your grocery bill as if it were a box of cookies or a carton of milk.

The first time I bought a card, I asked the cashier to put $50 on it. It takes nearly that much to fill my 14.2-gallon gas tank.

After I filled up, there was a little over $5 left on the card.  I shoved it into my purse thinking I would reload it the next time I went through checkout. Wrong.

On my next visit, I pulled the gift card out and asked to put another $50 on it. The cashier reached for a new card from a stack near the register and told me they weren’t reloadable. I would have to get a new card.

“You mean they’re going to throw away that plastic?” I asked her. She nodded. I told her that didn’t seem good for the environment. I bought a second card, still frowning about the waste. If the lines at the pump were any indication, lots of people were taking advantage of the HEB fuel savings — and buying lots of plastic cards.

When I got to the pump, I couldn’t tell which gift card was which — the one with only $5 on it versus the new one with $50. I made a mental note to ask the clerk to put a check mark or something on the next one that I buy.

Unlike HEB, Walmart’s gift cards are reloadable. According to its website: “As you make purchases, the card amount decreases. Add to card balance anytime in a Walmart store.” I have one of those, too, but my local Walmart does not have a gas station. If I have to drive out of my way to get the discount, it’s not worth it.

On the off chance that the HEB clerk was in error, I called the company’s gift card customer service line and asked if the cards are reloadable. They aren’t, the rep said. They never have been, but they are working on trying to make them reloadable, she said.

So, I applaud HEB for giving customers a break on gas, but urge them to quickly implement the reload function.

I know that people with gas rewards credit cards can get 1 percent to 5 percent cash back when they use their credit cards to buy gas.

See related: Drive for rewards pushes old-style gas cards in ditch, How to turn your driver’s license into a debit card

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  • maryanne

    Why not save the gift cards and just lower the price by $0.11 per gallon…the customers would swarm to HEB pumps and HEB would get more customers and less cost for issuing cards and time for the employees issuing the cards that they could use checking out customers when buying groceries.