HARLINGEN - Motorists who use credit cards at gas pumps may not know they can save money by going inside the store and paying cash for a card that can be used at the pump.
Under a policy started when Circle K, now Stripes, convenience stores were selling Citgo brand gasoline, motorists who stop at Stripes stores and want a 3-cent to 5-cent-a-gallon discount for gasoline must first go inside the store and pay cash, store representatives said.
The clerk will give the customer a card that looks like a credit card and the customer then swipes the card at the pump, Stripes spokespersons said.
Tom Kelley, spokesman for Attorney General Greg Abbot's office in Austin, said posting the "cash card price" in small type on a piece of paper taped to the front door of the convenience store, as happened at a Harlingen convenience store recently, or just telling the customer who goes inside about the discount, is not sufficient notice to consumers.
But Stripes/Valero stores in the Rio Grande Valley post the credit/debit card price on their pumps, said Craig Scott, a spokesman for Susser Holdings Corp., which owns Stripes convenience stores in the Valley.
It would be ideal if all stores did carry signs on gas pumps explaining the cash price compared with the price paid with a credit or debit card used at the gas pump, he said.
"Unless somebody is doing something wrong, the price you see on the sign and on the pump should be the price you see on your receipt if you use a credit (or debit) card," Scott said.
Some stores give a 5-cent-a-gallon discount for paying cash, while others give only a 3-cent discount, Scott said.
But he disagrees with the Attorney General's Office statement that the discount must be posted, Scott said.
"We are only required to show the highest price," he said. "It's like unadvertised specials you see at Wal-Mart. It's the same law that covers that."
Customers can find out about the discount if they go inside the store, Scott said.
"Then, you'll know the next time (about the discount for cash payment)," he said.
Several representatives of Susser Holdings Corp. told the Valley Morning Star their company never charges credit or debit card customers a higher price than what is advertised on signs or gas pumps.
At a Stripes store on Ed Carey Drive at Hale Avenue recently, stickers were attached to all gas pumps that said, "Pre-pay cash sales inside."
Angela Graves said she recently encountered the cash card price at a Shamrock station in Harlingen.
"I'm not even sure if it's legal, but even if they can charge two prices, shouldn't they have to advertise the higher of the two since some customers will be charged that?" she asked. "The attendant told me that all the stations are doing it now; this is the first time I've come across it."
Also, Graves said she applied for and received a Valero credit card that was advertised to have a 10-cent rebate on each gallon of fuel.
"My first bill had the rebate, but if they charge 5 cents more per gallon, then I'm not really getting a 10-cent/gallon rebate by using their card and pumping gas at their stations?" she said.
But Scott said that, even though Valero bought up most Diamond Shamrock stations, that particular station where Graves tanked up is an independent station that is not part of the Valero or Stripes chains. There is one other such independent station in McAllen, he said.
Also, there are Valero stations in Texas and other states that are not part of the Stripes chain, and they may or may not give a discount for cash, Scott said.
But any difference between the advertised (cash card price), and credit or debit card prices, must be posted on equal-sized signs, Kelley said.
"I think consumers need to file complaints about this," Kelley said. "We really need to look into this."
But that isn't possible because of local sign ordinances, Scott said. "On South Padre Island, we can't even put a little sign on the gas pump advertising 99-cent tacos," he said.
Stripes used to advertise the cash card price on free-standing signs placed on the ground, but some cities won't allow such signs and there were problems with wind blowing the signs away, he said.