The best gas rewards credit cards of 2020

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If you spend a lot of time in your car, a credit card that gives you bonus rewards on gas station spending is a smart way to save a little money every time you fill up.

The average American spends about $2,394 a year, or roughly $200 a month, on gas, according to a sample budget based on the latest spending data available from the location intelligence firm Esri. Choosing to use a gas rewards credit card can help offset some of the costs associated with driving to work, taking a road trip or running errands.

In order to find the best card for your next trip to the gas station, we analyzed 29 popular rewards cards that offer gas station rewards using an average American’s annual spending budget and digging into each card’s perks and drawbacks. (See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best cards.)

Picking the right gas card can be tricky. There are often restrictions on what qualifies as a gas station. For example, most cards exclude gas purchased from superstores, supermarkets and wholesale clubs, such as Costco and BJ’s.

Before signing up for a gas rewards card, take the time to consider how to maximize the points you earn. If you have to go out of the way to buy gas from a qualifying station, or you can fill up for significantly less using your Costco membership, you might be better off going with a different rewards card.

None of the cards on our best-of list are connected with a specific gas station brand and most of them also offer strong rewards in other categories, including supermarkets and restaurants. We recognize that most people don’t spend exclusively in one category and take that into consideration when recommending cards.

Here are See how they all compare. CNBC Select’s top picks for credit cards with gas station rewards.

Who’s this for? Among the cards we analyzed, the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card currently offers the highest rewards rate at gas stations with 5X points per dollar spent. If you want to maximize rewards at gas stations, this card can earn the average American $120 annually.

This card has no annual fee, so road warriors can maximize their savings. In addition to earning high rewards at gas stations, cardholders also benefit from unlimited 3X points at grocery stores.

PenFed is a credit union, so membership is required to open the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card. Anyone can join by completing a few extra steps: You need to apply, open a savings account with a $5 deposit and maintain a $5 account balance.

Who’s this for? The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card has a strong rewards program for a no annual fee card: Earn unlimited 3X points on gas, dining out and ordering in; rideshares and transit; flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals; and popular streaming services; plus 1X point on all other purchases.

This card is a smart choice for commuters. It not only gives you 3X points at gas stations but also on purchases at toll bridges and highways, parking lots and garages. Gas station purchases alone can earn the average American $72 a year. When you’re done with the daily hustle, you can enjoy 3X points on select streaming services and ordering in.

Wells Fargo makes it easy to redeem points for cash, gift cards or travel. There are no black-out dates when you make reservations through Go Far Rewards, but you can’t start redeeming points until you’ve earned 2,500.

In addition to rewards, this card offers no interest on purchases and balance transfers for a full year (then 15.74% to 27.74% variable APR). If you have large upcoming expenses or debt on a non-Amex card, the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card provides a way to finance new and old debt without incurring interest charges. Balance transfers are charged a 3% fee, $5 minimum.

There’s also cell phone protection for damage to or theft of your phone up to $600 per claim and $1,200 per 12-month period ($25 deductible applies and you must pay your phone bill with your Wells Fargo Propel Amex Card).

Who’s this for? The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers a competitive unlimited 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations. This rewards rate earns the average American $72 a year on purchases made at U.S. gas stations. Cardholders also get 3% cash back for transit purchases, including taxis, parking tolls and more, making it ideal for commuters.

Frequent food shoppers will like this card because it offers the highest cash-back rate at U.S. supermarkets – 6% (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%). Plus, there’s an unlimited 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions and 1% cash back on everything else.

Beyond cash back, this card comes with money-saving where you can earn a statement credit or additional points at select retailers. For example, a recent offer for BP and Amoco gas stations states: “Get 2 additional Membership Rewards® points per eligible dollar spent.” These limited-time offers are location-based and additional terms apply.

This card does come with a $95 annual fee, but taking full advantage of the cardholder benefits and cash back earnings helps offset the cost.

Who’s this for? The PNC Cash Rewards® Visa® gives cardholders 4% cash back at gas stations, making it one of the highest cash-back rates at gas stations. This allows the average American to earn $96 a year at gas stations alone. Dining purchases also earn a competitive 3% cash back.

However, the gas station, dining and grocery store bonus cash back is limited to the first $8,000 in combined purchases annually. Once you spend more than $8,000 in those three categories, the cash-back rate drops to 1%.

Beyond rewards, this card is fairly basic, but it doesn’t have an annual fee and comes with a year of no interest on balance transfers made within the first 90 days from account opening (after, 14.49% to 24.49% variable APR). There’s a 3% ($5 minimum) balance transfer fee.

Cardholders can start redeeming rewards once they have at least $25 in their PNC Cash Rewards account. Rewards can be applied as statement credits or deposited into a qualifying PNC account.

Who’s this for? The Citi Premier℠ Card is a good option for frequent travelers, especially those who drive. This card offers 3X points on travel, which includes gas stations. It’s hard to find a card that classifies gas station spending as travel, so this is a nice perk and it can earn the average American $72 a year on gas station purchases.

Cardholders get the best value when they redeem rewards for airfare through thankyou.com where points are worth 25% more. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 towards airfare.

This card does have a $95 annual fee. That’s fairly reasonable, though there are other cards on this list offering the same gas rewards without an annual fee.

To determine which cards offer the best value for dining out, CNBC Select analyzed 29 of the most popular credit cards offered by the biggest banks, financial companies and credit unions that allow anyone to join and offer bonus rewards at gas stations. Bonus rewards means a cardholder earns 2% or 2 points per dollar in a given category. In this case, gas stations.

We compared each card on a range of features, including cash-back rewards, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR, balance transfer fee and foreign transaction fees, as well as factors such as required credit score and customer reviews when available. We also considered additional perks, the application process and how easy it is for the consumer to redeem points.

CNBC Select teamed up with location intelligence firm Esri. The company’s data development team provided the most up-to-date and comprehensive consumer spending data based on the 2018 Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can read more about their methodology here.

Esri’s data team created a sample annual budget of approximately $21,852 in retail spending. This budget is comprised of the most common spending categories, including groceries ($5,019), gas ($2,394), dining out ($3,365), travel ($2,154), utilities ($4,959) and general purchases ($3,961). General purchases include items such as housekeeping supplies, clothing, personal care products, prescription drugs and vitamins, and other vehicle expenses.

CNBC Select used this budget to estimate how much the average consumer would save over the course of a year, two years and five years, assuming they would attempt to maximize their rewards potential by earning all welcome bonuses offered and using the card for all applicable purchases. All rewards total estimations are net the annual fee.

It’s important to note the value of a point or mile varies from card to card and based on how you redeem them. When we calculated the estimated returns, we assumed that cardholders are redeeming points/miles for a typical maximum value of 1 cent per point or mile. (Extreme optimizers might be able to achieve more value.)

For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, please click .

Our final picks are weighted heavily toward the highest five-year returns, since it’s generally wise to hold onto a credit card for years. This method also avoids giving an unfair advantage to cards with large welcome bonuses.

While the five-year estimates we’ve included are derived from a budget similar to the average American’s spending, you may earn a higher or lower return depending on your spending habits.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.