Pinching Pennies

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

It's not just businesses feeling gas pains, of course. Consumers, too--even those whose drive time is limited to the workday commute--are hurting from prices that remain nearly $1 per gallon over last year.

"People have all different ways to deal with it," says Kimberly Schwind of AAA Ohio. "Some people can reduce their driving, but a lot of people can't."

When gas prices last peaked in 2008 (right before the recession hit, and the cost to fuel up took a subsequent nosedive), AAA conducted a study to see how drivers coped, Schwind says. Respondents ate out less, bought generic groceries instead of name brands and traded in gas-guzzlers for fuel-efficient vehicles.

More recently, "We asked members of our Facebook group, ‘How do you deal with high gas prices?' and a lot of them said, ‘I use my fuel perks,' " Schwind says. "A lot of people are turning to that and trying to save in any way they can."

Indeed, representatives of both Kroger and Giant Eagle say that their rewards programs, which provide gas discounts based on grocery store spending, have proven popular with shoppers.

Kroger has had a customer-rewards program since 2005; revamped in May, it provides shoppers a discount of 10 cents per gallon for every 100 points earned. (In most cases, $1 spent equals one point; gift cards, prescriptions and use of Kroger's 1-2-3 Rewards MasterCard earn extra points.)

Drivers can redeem up to a $1 discount per gallon for up to 35 gallons of fuel at Kroger gas stations, its Turkey Hill locations and participating Shell locations, says company spokeswoman Amy McCormick.

Giant Eagle started its fuelperks program in Erie, Pa. in 2004; in the last year, shoppers have earned more than $230 million in free fuel at Giant Eagle's GetGo gas stations, says spokesman Brock Schmaltz via email. Customers earn a 10-cent discount for every $50 spent; as of early July, Columbus-area shoppers were getting 20 cents off per gallon through a local promotion. There's no cap to the amount of fuelperks savings customers can accumulate. Each redemption is capped at 30 gallons.

A companion program, foodperks, gives a grocery discount for gas purchased at GetGo. Shoppers earn 1 percent off for every 10 gallons of gas and can redeem up to 20 percent off a $300 bill.

Reprinted from the August 2011 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.