Which is the best petrol loyalty program?
There are three major petrol loyalty programs in Australia, but what is the best strategy to get the most out of them?

For this article, one frequent flyer point will be given the value of 1 cent to help with the calculations. For the two major supermarkets, Flybuys and Woolworths Rewards points are valued at 0.5cents per dollar spent, or 0.435 per point if converted to their respective frequent flyer partners (and 0.4cents if Flybuys are converted to Etihad points).

The typical price paid for petrol will be assumed to be the national average at $1.30. According to the ABS, an average Australian car uses 1,400 litres per year, giving a total spend of around $1,800 per year. People living in major cities like Sydney or Melbourne may be scoff at this seemingly low annual spend. To help those who differ from the average, the value rate per $100 spent is included.

Four things to keep in mind
1. Visit new window to scan the prices of petrol stations near you. There is not much point going to a more expensive petrol station to use a discount voucher or earn points, when it is cheaper to use a station with a net lower price. We found independent operators were frequently more than 4cents a litre cheaper than nearby Caltex or Shell stations.

2. As an extension of the first point, don't drive out of your way to get points as that extra travelling cost can negate the small benefits you receive.

3. Keep in mind that petrol prices can cycle up and down by as much as 20cents a litre in each cycle: in many instances your cheapest deal is less about where you buy your petrol, and more about when.

4. Many petrol brands offer their own fuel cards. If you qualify for a card, it can offer savings, but they may also attract monthly fees and other charges that reduce the savings and only high volume users are likely to see a net benefit. In addition, with the discount applied, it still may be cheaper to use the Fuelcheck website to find the best local price.

5. Caltex has a strange alliance with another loyalty partner which can earn an additional one point per dollar spent. In addition there is a way to gain a further 5% discount. We haven't included them below in the comparison but more details can be found at Save up to 10% in points & benefits when buying Caltex petrol.

6. Two credit cards will earn double or more points when you use them to buy petrol. These are the American Express Platinum Edge card (double points with a range of airline partners) and the American Express David Jones card (2.25 Qantas points).

Stations: Shell
Affiliated Supermarket: Coles
Benefits: You will need to spend at Coles (typically $30) to gain a 4 cent per litre discount voucher. Otherwise you will just earn one Flybuys point per $2 spent. Occasionally there are special offers.
Flybuys points earned per year: 900, or 392 Virgin frequent flyer points
Value added per year on $1,800: $4.50/392 Virgin points
Value added per $100 spent: $0.22-$0.25
Overall rank: worst

Woolworths Rewards
Stations: Caltex. Importantly the petrol station you use must be branded with Woolworths in some way - the best guide is to look for the discount listed in green on the petrol price signage. Without the Woolworths signage, you won't receive points.
Affiliated Supermarket: Woolworths.
Benefits: You will need to spend at Woolworths (typically $30) to gain a 4 cent per litre discount voucher. Otherwise you will earn one Rewards point per dollar spent. Occasionally there are special offers. However you can increase you points load by following our guide Four ways to earn points and benefits at Caltex.
Woolworths Reward points earned per year: 1,800, or 783 Qantas points
Value added per year on $1,800: $9 towards a voucher/783 Qantas points
Value added per $100: $0.435-$0.50
Overall rank: middle

Virgin Velocity Points
Stations: BP
Affiliated Supermarket: None
Benefits: Earn 2 Velocity points per litre of petrol. This earning rate is the same regardless of the type of fuel you purchase. Hence your yield per dollar spent will drop by 20% if you choose the high-end fuels. To gain the points, swipe your Velocity Frequent Flyer Card when paying. If you've forgotten it, a temporary card can be issued and you'll need to go online to transfer the points over.
Virgin frequent flyer points earned per year: 2,800
Value added per year on $1800: $28/2,800 Virgin points
Value added per $100: $1.53
Overall rank: highest

In Summary
All up, the clear winner for earning points is Virgin/BP. It yields six times the amount of value offered by Flybuys. These numbers show that the programs generally draw you in with very little benefit. The discount vouchers offered by the supermarkets are only useful if their partner petrol stations are convenient to you, that you have spent $30 at the supermarket within 10 days of needing to fill up (most vouchers expire within 10 days) and that FuelCheck is showing that the advertised price per litre is less than 4 cents difference between Shell/Caltex and the nearest, cheapest option. For Flybuys, the points earned show that if you drive just 500metres out of your way (1km return) to buy 50litres of petrol, this extra distance to get the points wipes out the benefit. You'll use an average of 0.12 litres of petrol at a cost of 16cents to earn 16cents worth of points.

The best approach is to find the cheapest option and if that station is one of the three major players, use their program to improve the yield on your credit card spend. For example if you pay by a credit card earning one point per dollar spent and can make use of the Virgin points, your yield rises to 2.53 points per dollar spent. Using the bonus offer from the credit cards mentioned above, and this can get as high as 3.78 points per dollar. The worst performer, Flybuys sees it run at a paltry 1.25 points, with Woolworths at 1.5 points per dollar. The nice advantage of the BP/Virgin offer is that the points go straight to your account and you don't have to wait to hit 2,000 points before you can convert the supermarket points to a $10 voucher or frequent flyer points.