When is a gas station not a convenience store?

By | October 27th, 2016

What’s the difference between a gas station and a convenience store? It may not matter to you, but it does to Marilyn Nenninger. And to me.

Nenninger, like thousands of other Costo customers, endured a credit-card switchover and had to sort through the resulting confusion. The biggest question for her: What kind of a rebate would she receive on gas purchases? But this consumer problem has a happy ending, and it’s the best kind of happy ending.

Costco ended its credit card agreement with American Express earlier this year and switched to a Costco Anywhere Visa by Citi.

“I know that the switchover was a mess for some people, but we were lucky enough not to be one of the screw-ups,” she says. “The new card promises some very nice cash back rewards — among them, a 4 percent rebate on gas and 3 percent on eligible travel. ”

Nenninger first checked the specifics of “eligible travel,” because she had been discussing a couple of vacation trips. It seemed reasonable to her.

“Then, I looked up the specifics on the 4 percent gas rewards, and it raised an eyebrow,” she says.

Here’s what she found:

Earning Costco Cash Rewards on Purchases: You’ll earn Costco Cash Rewards for purchases using your Card Account, minus returns and refunds, as follows:
4% cash back on eligible gas worldwide, including gas at Costco, for the first $7,000 per year in gas purchases and then 1% thereafter.

Certain Non-Qualifying Purchases. You will only earn 1% cash back, not 4%, for gas purchased at superstores, supermarkets, convenience stores and warehouse clubs other than Costco, or for fuel used for non-automobile purposes.

That’s where things got tricky.

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“Almost every major-brand gas station in my area has some sort of convenience store on its premises,” she says. “The cheapest place closest to us to purchase gas is on the premises of a supermarket (Shop ‘N Save), which is supposed to be disqualified for the 4 percent cash back under Citi’s terms.”

So that left her with a big — and unanswerable — question: What’s a convenience store?

She emailed Citi. She waited two weeks. Silence.

“Then I looked at your website and got some contacts for Citibank,” she says.

An assistant to Brit Simon, Citi’s senior vice president for customer experience, called her the next day.

“After a little phone tag, I spoke to her she explained that participating merchants are coded for rebate purposes. She went in and looked at our most recent Costco Anywhere Visa card statement, and saw that our gas purchases were made at either a QuikTrip or Shop ‘N Save. She assured me that both were classified as gas stations, and both would generate a 4 percent rebate on gas purchases using this card,” she says.

I love stories like this. Not only did our executive contacts at Citi work, but Nenninger also showed that sometimes, the most effective consumer advocate is you.

Now, I can’t resist adding a cautionary note to this story: Credit cards that encourage you to spend more may be habit-forming. But I would much rather see my dear readers use a card that offers cash back, even with Citi’s restrictions, than collecting scammy loyalty points. But as you might say, that’s beside the point.

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Nenninger did this on her own, and I’m happy this site could play a small part in the resolution.

Oh, what the heck. I can’t resist.

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