Thursday, April 30, 2020

Save Money at the Pump, and For Free? An In-Depth Look at "Pay with Gasbuddy" (App)



WHAT IS IT?

When I first started using it a few years back, GasBuddy was merely a way to find the cheapest gas in relation to your location. I can see where it would be useful to some people, especially those who travel a lot and don't want to get gypped, but I found that I was too stubborn to drive out of my way just to save a few piddly cents on gasoline, so I got rid of the app and more or less forgot about it.

But after researching ways to save a little bit of cash, I recently re-discovered GasBuddy: not because of the reason above, but because they now offer more ways to actually save at the pump, like a debit card linked to your bank account, that saves you $.05 per gallon every single time you use it (with minor restrictions that don't affect me at all). On top of that, there is also a paid option that can also increase your savings, as well as add a few more benefits, for a monthly charge. Sound too good to be true? Spoiler warning: it's not, but there are some (minor) caveats, so let's take a look, shall we?

THE SIGN-UP PROCESS 

The sign-up screen. Requirements are on the left.
In order to use the GasBuddy card, you will have to sign up using a valid U.S. checking account: this is what the GasBuddy card will “link” to in order to pass on the savings. Applications can be filled out online, or through the app, and since it's through debit, there are no credit checks or any other hoops to jump through. In fact, this is actually how the idea works: since transactions paid for by the Gasbuddy card are run as debit, this means the gas stations are avoiding higher credit card transaction fees, and pass some of those savings on to consumers.

Assuming your bank is one of the ones listed, account verification is pretty much instant, so the next step is to wait for your GasBuddy card to arrive, which I believe says will take anywhere from 7-10 business days. I've found usually companies say this as a worst-case scenario, and the card comes much sooner than that, but it really did take me about two weeks from the day I signed up, until I received my card. It was within their stated time frame, but keep that in mind if you're hoping to get it in time for your next fill up, you may have to miss one or two before you actually do.

A visual representation of what the card looks like.
If your bank is not listed in the previous step, you can still manually add your routing and checking account information, but then you must verify it the old-fashioned way: via the amounts of two small deposits that can take up to 72 hours to post. This just adds even more time before you get your card, which certainly sucks, but that's what you get for not having a greedy nationwide corporation handle your money!

Once your card finally arrives, you activate it through the GasBuddy app (available on iOS or Android), set up a four-digit driver number (which functions kind of like a pin), and then swipe it instead of your usual card at the pump, making sure you choose “credit” as your payment option if it asks. (I've found that if you don't specify either option, it automatically runs it through as credit, at least at the gas stations I frequent.) Then you can start using it right away!

The only weird thing about the process is that the pump won't “recognize” the card as a discount card, and so when you're actually pumping your gas, you will see the “full price” displayed. However, once you close out the transaction, you will receive an email showing you the discounted price you were actually charged, and how much you saved. I also don't quite understand why they need to send you a physical card, and why they couldn't have just gone in a similar direction as Dosh and other saving programs, where you just input your banking information to “link” your card. I'm honestly not complaining (the card does look pretty cool), but just kinda wondering out loud (I'm sure there's a logical reason, I just don't know what it would be).

NAVIGATION


Thanks to the app's simple focus, using it is likewise very straightforward.
Since this app pretty much focuses on one thing, navigating around is as straightforward as it should be. From the main page, tap on the "Find Gas" button and, assuming you have location services enabled, it will pull up all the gas stations closest to you, with filters available to help you drill down to something more specific. By default, the closest stations to you are at the top (under 1 mile), with additional distances continuing down. Under each distance, the stations are categorized in order of cheapest, to most expensive.

Refreshingly, unlike GetUpside, location settings are not required to simply browse stations, although it is a requirement if you want to activate a deal alert or to use the card. (This makes sense, so they can match up the deal you're going for to your precise location to make sure they line up.)

Everything else can be accessed from the bottom, allowing you to find gas stations, enter to win their daily $100 gift card contest, etc. You can even add your car model to get information on recalls, which is kind of a cool bonus. And that's about it. It's very easy, and almost impossible for anyone to get lost anywhere in the menu.

PAID OPTION


For most people, this is a waste, but it can be useful for people with no other options.
Although the base level of GasBuddy ($.05 per gallon) is always free, there is also an additional paid tier available. There used to be two, Gasbuddy Plus (which I was actually contemplating signing up for), and GasBuddy Premium, but it appears that only the Premium remains.

The premium adds a $.20 discount on every gallon of gas, up to 50 gallons per month (with the standard $.05/gallon discount applying to anything above the limit), along with roadside assistance, which covers up to three events per year. This costs $9.99/month, or $99 per year. For those who don't have other options for roadside assistance, and who are looking to add it, this is a good option, especially if you tend to fill up with at least 50 gallons per month ($.20 discount x 50 gallons = $10, which basically covers your monthly subscription fee, minus tax). Their RA plan includes free towing up to 10 miles, three gallons of gas should you run out, and coverage for typical events such as flat tires, lockouts, and jump starts; the service is provided by Allstate. Considering we're already covered through AAA, we have no need for it, but for the right person, once you factor in your monthly gas savings, this is like getting all of those things for free, with even greater savings if paid for as an annual subscription up front.

(For what it's worth, the “Plus” upgrade was $5.99/month or $49.99 per year and offered the same $.20 discount up to 40 gallons, but without the added roadside assistance.)

OTHER ACTIVITIES
You can shop at retailers to earn money back that you can use on gas.
Although the main focus is simply on using the debit card to earn cash back, there are other ways to save some money from within the GasBuddy app: namely, GasBack, and Deal Alerts.

GasBack is essentially an eBates-style rebate platform, where a certain percentage of your sales to certain retailers come back to you in the form of “free gas”. Honestly, the percentages offered are about the same as they are through other platforms, with the added benefit of being able to cash them out and use them on whatever you like elsewhere. But if you're already planning on using the rebated money for gas, and are planning on doing some shopping anyway, then the GasBuddy app can be a good alternative, especially considering there are no minimums necessary to cash out: the GasBack is saved in your GasBuddy account, and can be applied to any fill-up once it clears (which can take weeks, and depends on the retailer, per the norm).

Deal Alerts have just started working a little differently than they used to. Initially, you saved $.05 by default every time you used the card, and Deal Alerts were a way to save even more at select stations. Now, however, you must manually select your gas station of choice in order to earn the $.05 discount, with the default savings (should you forget to do so) dropping to a mere $.03. You have to wonder what the company stands to gain (besides slightly-increased profits) by requiring this extra step, but it must be worth it to their bottom line.

How "Deal Alerts" are designated in the results.
There are some stations that do offer deeper discounts than $.05, though, and these stations are clearly labeled in the results screen, with a banner showing you the additional savings. For these stations, all you still have to do is activate the deal alert as you normally would before pumping gas, and voila! Additional savings for literally no extra work!

The amount of the extra offers tend to fluctuate in line with current gas prices (i.e. the lower the retail cost of gas, the lower the discount), but they're usually around $.10-.15, which can really add up. I've been incredibly lucky in that a gas station right down the street from me participates in this plan, which has allowed me to save over $50 in gas within the first six months of using this app. While that might not sound like much, it's money I was going to spend anyway, so why not save a buck or two per fill-up? (Plus, that same gas station is one of only three in my highly-populated metropolitan area that are also on GetUpside, allowing me to stack both deals and nearly double my cash back every time...I'm going to be depressed when this hookup ends.)

HOW MUCH CAN I SAVE? 
Well, how much gas do you buy in a given month? The more you buy, in theory, the more you save. But let's be real here: contrary to what human nature seems to believe, $.05 per gallon is not much. (It always cracks me up the people that will drive five miles out of the way to save $.10 a gallon on gas—which equates to $1.40 on a 14-gallon tank—and then will turn around and drop $3 on a bottle of name brand ketchup.)

But it is something. And basically for nothing. While it used to be even simpler (just use the card to save $.05), remembering to use the GasBuddy card on top of activating the Deal Alert at the gas station before pumping certainly isn't difficult, and becomes part of your natural routine after a couple trips to the gas station.

As a quick, real-world calculation of roughly what you can expect to save, my wife and I each have our own vehicles: she has an SUV that holds about 20 gallons, and I have a Chrysler that holds around 15. We each fill up about once every week-and-a-half, which equates to about three fill-ups per vehicle per month, averaging out to somewhere around 90 gallons total. Just at the base rate of $.05 per fill-up, that equates to somewhere around $4.50 per month, or $54 per year. Again, certainly not a life-changing amount, but it's pretty much money for almost nothing, so why not take advantage of it?

If you're lucky enough to be near a gas station that frequently offers “Deal Alerts”, that above number can be boosted quite a bit. For me, I've earned over $50 back through six months, which would put me on par for somewhere around $100 in a year. I don't know what I'm going to spend that extra money on, but I know it won't be on gas! (And that's just through GasBuddy...you can stack with other apps to increase savings even more.)

"Price Hike Alerts" are another great tool to save you money at the pump.
You can also sign up for "Price Hike Alerts", which send an alert to your phone when gas prices jump more than $.10 per gallon within a 24-hour period. This gives you a bit of time to get a last-second fill-up before all the stations in your area are affected. It's a pretty nifty little tool that can save you even more.

SUPPORT
I have never had to use GasBuddy's support, so I unfortunately can't speak as to their timeliness or effectiveness at handling questions. As with most services these days, they have a FAQ that seems to be updated pretty frequently, and that can handle basic questions and requests; for questions or concerns not addressed in the FAQ, there is also a contact form that can be filled out and submitted directly to them.

Beyond that, they are active on major social media sites, and will generally respond to requests on there just as quick, if not quicker, than through the contact form.

PROS (+)
+An almost completely passive way to save money at the pump
+Deal Alerts can drastically boost savings, especially when paired up with other apps.
+Completely free base version saves $.05/gallon at almost every gas station, every day.
+Available at around 95% of all gas stations nationwide (notable exceptions: "club" stores, a la Sam's Club; H-E-B; Exxon; and select Walmart and Arco stations).
+Price Hike Alerts notify you when gas prices in your area start to raise by more than $.10 a gallon, allowing you to fill up before it spreads to all stations.

CONS
-Must use GasBuddy debit card, linked to checking account.
-Default savings down to $.03 per gallon (from $.05).
-Eliminated mid-tier paid plan, and raised price on upper tier plan (which comes with roadside assistance).
-Savings can be cut down when used with gas station rewards.

If you drive a car and fill up with any sort of regularity, Pay with Gasbuddy is worth looking into. It's not a great fit for everyone, as it's not accepted at every gas station, and savings can be cut back if you use other discounts at the pump (such as gas station rewards), but for the vast majority, it's a good way to get something back for a necessary product that you're going to purchase anyway.

Especially now that gas prices have hit rock bottom, I'm regularly saving upwards of $.20 per gallon thanks to Deal Alerts, without having to spend $1,000 on groceries, or jumping through any sort of hoops to earn it. Again, results will vary by person, but for me, this is a fantastic, nearly passive way to bank some pretty solid savings. And now is the perfect time to sign up.

RATING: 8/10

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