News from the Tennessee Valley State, Local and National news
SUNDAY, JUNE 17, 2007

Buzz Harvell failed to see the word CASH next to the diesel price at the Pilot in Priceville and was surprised when he was charged 6 cents more per gallon.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Buzz Harvell failed to see the word CASH next to the diesel price at the Pilot in Priceville and was surprised when he was charged 6 cents more per gallon.

Pilot offer
good for cash only

Hartselle man surprised at cost of gas bought with credit card

By Paul Huggins · 340-2395

The giant billboard over Pilot Travel Center at Priceville lured Buzz Harvell from Hartselle to fill up his RV before a long trip.

The advertised price of $2.69 per gallon was the cheapest around for diesel fuel.

So he pumped in 40 gallons costing $113. He swiped his credit card and took his receipt finding a surprise: He paid 6 cents more per gallon than the price he saw on the sign.

He complained to the manager, who told him the price on the billboard was for cash transactions. Credit card purchases were $2.75 per gallon.

No disclaimer?

Harvell suspected scam, but he’s more a victim of his vision.

Next to the price in vertical letters the sign reads “CASH.” A reader has to stare at it to see it and had better have 20/20 vision, but it’s there.

Still, Harvell said he would have expected to see some sort of disclaimer on the fuel pump.

He would because Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries requires it.

If Harvell had pumped from the diesel islands where all the tractor-trailer rigs fill up, he probably would have found a sticker that read: “Price posted at the street is 6 cents less than regular or credit price.”

All but a couple of pumps had that disclaimer on a yellow tag by the card reader.

The disclaimer is not on the pumps where unleaded fuels are sold or even at a special island for RVs to fill up.

That’s because the billboard price is aimed at Pilot’s biggest diesel customers, the tractor-trailers, said Mitch Steenrod, chief financial officer for Pilot.

Pilot discounts cash purchases because the store won’t have to pay the banks a credit card fee of 2 percent on the overall purchase, he said.

“We’re no different than any other business,” Steenrod said. “If you go to Wal-Mart or any other retailer, and you use a credit card, there is a fee that’s charged to the merchant to accept that card and the reimbursement is reduced for that interchange fee.”

Ways to save

That credit card fee charged by banks amounts to almost 6 cents per gallon on fill-up made by tractor-trailers. The rigs typically buy 110 gallons for a $300 purchase.

The cash discount can save truckers $6.60 per fill-up, and truckers like Jason Brown of Birmingham said that’s significant considering how much fuel rigs burn.

Brown and some other truckers fueling at Pilot said they use a special fleet purchasing card that’s cheaper than a credit card because it doesn’t charge the store a processing fee.

When Brown swipes his purchasing card, the price per gallon drop 4 cents.

It’s not as much as the cash discount, “but every penny helps,” he said.

Steenrod said the cash discount isn’t offered on the pumps that offer unleaded and premium gasolines.

That’s because regular motorists’ purchases aren’t as nearly as expensive as truckers and therefore it’s easier to absorb the cost without raising prices by 5 or 6 cents per gallon.

“The margins in our business aren’t that deep, so when these transaction values get to the level of an over-the-road truck, it tends to bite profitability pretty good.

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