Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A pain in the pump

As I'm sure you're well aware of, crude oil prices are on an ever-rising ascent with no drop in sight, which means gas is quickly becoming a pain in the pump. Forget being offered coupons these days: with the average price of gas across the country rising to rest slightly above $4 per gallon today, it looks like oil is becoming the new currency -- in the form of gas cards -- that companies are using to lure consumers into their web. is rewarding guests who book a minimum three nights through them with a $50 gas card; many smaller banks are offering the same deal to customers opening checking accounts with them. Is golf your thing? If you buy certain drivers from Callaway Golf Co., it's likely that you'll be rewarded with a $100 gas card for choosing them. "Free gas" is becoming the new benchmark for giveaway goodies that companies, well, give away.

I'm all for it! With all the talk of hybrid cars and their ilk, most of the country (including my Hyundai) runs on good old-fashioned gasoline, so when companies offer to essentially fill up for you, I say lap up the offers -- but with one caveat.

Don't get lured into buying more than you normally spend just because your purchase comes with something "free." It's an easy trap to fall into, but just ask yourself, as you're handing over your check card or cash, "Do I really need this? Or am I just buying it because it comes with perks?" Those incessant Borders Rewards coupons that continually flood my inbox are a perfect example of this mentality of buying. Do you really need that dvd box set of every season of Seinfeld right now, or are you just impulse-buying it because you've got a 30% off coupon in your back pocket? (By the way, try, I guarantee it's cheaper.)

That being said, if you are in the market for a new set of clubs, or need to find a hotel to stay in, let the wooing of the free gas cards begin! If you have to spend the money, you may as well earn some back -- especially when these offers probably won't be around for the long term. According to Carnegie Mellon University marketing professor Baohong Sun, the free gas card trend should fade by the end of summer.

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