Man Loses Out On $217 In Credit Card Rewards Over Vague Definition Of “Pay At The Pump”

“Pay at the pump” generally means you swipe your credit or debit card at the machine. But in New Jersey, where you’re forbidden from pumping your own gas, there really is no other choice than paying at the pump, though the card isn’t always swiped at the actual pump. This vague distinction between “pay at the pump” and “giving your card to someone at the pump” is why one Jersey driver is out $217 in credit card rewards.

The Newark Star-Ledger’s Bamboozled column has the story of the man who got a Visa rewards credit card from PenFed Credit Union in 2011. The rewards were .25% rebate on all non-gasoline purchases and a 5% rebate when he paid at the pump.

For two years, the man would get his gas tank filled at a local gas station and use this card, but then he noticed that he wasn’t getting the 5% rebate he’d been promised for his visits to this particular gas station.

“Initially, I was told that the purchases were coded wrongly. I was told I should check the coding when purchasing,” he tells Bamboozled, adding that he could find no codes on the receipts, and how was one suppose to know what the coding would be before making a purchase?

As he tried to figure out what was going on, the man was getting different information from PenFed — which said the merchant code for gasoline purchases is 5542 (Automated Fuel Dispensers) — and from Visa — who told him it should be 5172 (Petroleum/Petroleum Products).

FYI, if you ever want to look up the merchant code of a business that accepts Visa cards, you can go to the Visa Supplier Locator and put in the name and address.

In the case of the gas station in question, it’s code is coming up as 5542. To us, the description of “Automated Fuel Dispensers” would seem to be in line with the “pay at the pump” requirement, which is probably why the man had no issue with getting rewards from his Discover card that also offered rewards for purchases at gas stations.

A rep for PenFed tried to tell the man that the terms and conditions required that “pay at the pump” rewards were only valid on gasoline pumps where you insert your credit card. At his gas station, the cards were all swiped from inside a booth.

But the man counters that this alleged fine print doesn’t even exist. “There is nothing in the agreement that specifies the definition of ‘pay at the pump’ as a gasoline pump that incorporates an internal credit card reader.”

PenFed eventually offered him $100 to make this all go away, but by then he’d already gotten Bamboozled involved.

The credit union says it makes the distinction between paying at the pump and paying inside the station so that it can distinguish between gas and other things one might buy at a gas station store (food, beverages, porn… we’ve heard).

But the company simply refused to directly address two huge issues — how the regular consumer is supposed to know if a station is coded properly before getting a receipt, and why PenFed doesn’t make the at-the-pump requirement explicit in its terms.

The credit union rep even initially denied offering the man $100 to resolve his claims, but then admitted that yes, that offer had been made and that he can still have the money if he wants it.

“I’ll consider taking what I can get,” the man tells Bamboozled. “But as I pointed out to the rep, paying us the full $217 isn’t going to break the back of the credit union.”