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Gasoline discounts deserve scrutiny

Tue., June 3, 2008

Buy a car, get a gas discount.

Buy groceries, get a gas discount.

Book a hotel room – what else? Get a gas card.

Some businesses are tapping into consumer anxiety over gasoline prices to lure customers.

But analysts and business leaders warn that potential customers should make sure any gas incentive fits their needs and actually saves money.

Chrysler is offering customers buying Chryslers and Jeeps a credit card capping gasoline at $2.99 a gallon for up to three years. The automaker’s deal thrilled Tom Couch, general manager of Brenner Chrysler Jeep in Mechanicsburg, Pa.

“We’re excited because it’s in tune to the needs of the buying public,” he said.

The gas incentive sparked three phases, Couch said. First came curiosity. Then, skepticism from people asking whether it could be true.

Finally, “now that people are seeing that it’s legitimate, they’re starting to come into the showroom,” he said.

Suzuki has followed Chrysler’s lead, offering consumers who buy 2008 or 2009 models a Visa debit card for gas purchases. Depending on the model, buyers can get up to $470 toward gas.

One of the longer-standing offers is from Giant Food Stores, which has had its groceries-for-gas discount since February 2006, said Tracy Pawelski, a spokeswoman for the grocery store chain.

Bonus card holders get 10 cents off per gallon at Giant’s gas pumps, up to 30 gallons, for every $100 in groceries.

“All you need to do is shop,” Pawelski said.

In the last 18 months, use has climbed by almost 35 percent, to about one-third of Giant’s bonus card holders, Pawelski said. The incentive is meant to “keep our customers shopping with us.”

Consumers should beware of any deal with too many restrictions, said Nils Frederiksen, spokesman for Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett.

In January, Corbett fined a Kia dealer for advertising several incentives, including free gas, that had too many strings attached to be redeemable, Frederiksen said.

“Consumers should get the information up front, before they make the purchase, so they can decide whether it’s a good deal or not,” he said. “A lot of the details are buried in the fine print.”

Con artists also might be playing on fears of rising gas prices, said Frederiksen, who groaned when told about an online offering of free food and gas in exchange for mailing $10 to a stranger.

“When economic times get a little tougher, scam artists get really aggressive,” he said.

Many hotels nationwide are offering gas cards, discounted rates for hybrid-car drivers and other incentives, reports.


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