Your Complete Guide to Fuel Cards
Originally published on August 09, 2019
Fuel cards can be a complex topic, with so many different options and services to choose from. This complete guide to fuel cards covers everything you need to know including the benefits they offer and how they work, as well as the application process and how best to manage your fuel cards.
All of your unanswered questions will be addressed as we provide you with a better understanding of fuel cards and how to use them – so you can make the right choice for your business.
What’s a Fuel Card?
So, let’s start at the very beginning. A fuel card is an alternative form of fuel payment for businesses. It allows drivers to purchase fuel for business vehicles on a card linked to an account which can monitor activity and spending. Fuels cards are registered to a specific network of fuel stations. For example, some cards are linked to specific brands, some are a mixture of different brands, and some offer discounts based on fuel type or at specific stations.
For example, both the UK Fuels card and the Fuelmate Supermarket Fuel Card are accepted at Morrisons and Tesco fuel sites. However, the UK Fuels card also has access to over 1600 core Shell motorway fuel sites, designed specifically for higher canopy vehicles, making this fuel card suitable for fleets made up of vehicles of any size. The Fuelmate Supermarket Fuel Card has access to up to 1,200 nationwide supermarket sites but no core sites, and offers other perks such as supermarket reward points, therefore a more suitable for vehicles who don’t use the motorways as much. If you’d like to learn more about supermarket fuel cards, we have answered some fuel card FAQs. We also have a brief guide to Sainsbury's fuel cards.
Fuel cards are only to be used for fuel-related products so, as well as limiting expenses, they also allow you to track spend and file business expenses much more efficiently. It’s important to remember that there isn’t one single perfect fuel card for every type of business. Each fuel card account is tailored to a company and cards are picked for every business on a case-by-case basis. If you're unsure of why your business would benefit from a fuel card, please read our blog post which explains the benefits of fuel cards for businesses. In order to identify the best performing fuel cards for your particular business, comparison tools are a great way to get a feel for what is suitable for your company’s needs.
A common request from many businesses is the need for multiple cards, in fact, most accounts in our experience have at least 10-20 fuel cards. Fuel card accounts can be made up of one type of fuel card or a variety of different cards, some assigned to individual drivers, some assigned to vehicles and some assigned to fleets. Again, this depends entirely on your business and what works for you.
The Different Types of Fuel Cards
Fuel cards are designed to be different and provide different fuel networks and benefits for different businesses. All fuel cards are accessible to all businesses however, based on the types of vehicles, type of fuel, fuel consumption and access routes used by your drivers, some will be more beneficial to your company than others.
For example, Fuelmate’s recommended fuel cards for fleets are all specifically chosen as we have found they are most beneficial for those companies who have a large fleet, consisting of cars, vans, HGVs and other large vehicles. With these cards, it’s easier to record, measure and control fuel usage for a large group of vehicles. Managing a large fleet of vehicles can be challenging, which is why these chosen fuel cards are so effective for fleet managers in particular as they reduce admin time and provide essential data required to make your fleet more efficient. Many of these types of fuel cards offer fixed weekly prices on fuel and host many other benefits, depending on which network of stations the cards work with. For help deciding which fuel card is best for your fleet, please read our explanatory blog post, called 'What is a Fleet Fuel Card?'.
A different example is a Keyfuels fuel card, which has access to more than 2,000 multi-branded fuel sites nationwide and offers a fixed price on diesel fuel at these sites. Although this card offers access to a large network of fuel sites, other options, which also do this, such as the euroShell Fleet fuel card, would be more beneficial for fleets who use the UK's main routes, due to its extensive motorway coverage.
Alternatively, if the drivers in your company operate more locally, the Fuelmate Supermarket Fuel Card could be a great option for you, due to these sites often being more convenient for drivers who operate locally. This means they don’t have to drive to remote stations, which would divert them majorly from their designated route.
There are numerous different options when it comes to fuel cards, including fuel cards for particular fuel stations or brands, as well as branded cards with access to other networks and those that offer maximum coverage. There are fuel cards better suited based on vehicle type and the type of fuel needed, with options benefiting a combination of these, if your drivers switch between using both unleaded and diesel vehicles. Some fuel cards are more beneficial for smaller vehicles, some for larger, and others a combination of both..
As you can see, the combinations really are endless, which explains why the majority of fuel card accounts use multiple types of fuel cards to suit different companies’ needs, fleets and drivers within the business.
Services Provided by Fuel Card Companies
Those who offer fuel cards services normally have a range of fuel cards, including fleet and supermarket cards. The exact cards offered will vary from company to company, as will the networks included within them and the benefits too. For example, a BP fuel card from one fuel card provider may incur different pricing rules and surcharges at the pump, compared with a BP fuel card from a different fuel card provider. Therefore, choosing the correct fuel card with the best price and benefits for your company requires some research and discussion with an expert. When undertaking any research, we recommend approaching providers that offer specialist advice and consultations to help you find the right card for you.
As part of the fuel card service, you should get support managing your account from the company you have the account with. There are often varying levels of support on offer which can include help with making any changes that may occur and provide invoicing in line with HMRC requirements to save you all-important admin time. In addition, the provider should be your first port of call when any unexpected issues occur. For example, if your driver is unsure where they can fill up using their fuel card, they should be able to access an online portal or call a helpline which directs them to the nearest available station in their card’s network. You should always be able to contact the fuel card provider directly for assistance and guidance in any capacity as part of the fuel card service.
Do I Get Any Benefits from Using a Fuel Card?
There are a number of useful benefits that come with having and using fuel cards within a business. This is why fuel cards are the preferable option compared with regular debit cards, credit cards or cash as many of the benefits can help the day-to-day running of a company. Find out more about fuel cards vs credit cards in our helpful blog post.
The benefits of each fuel card vary depending on the card you’re using and its network of fuelling stations. Furthermore, depending on the size of your fleet, using fuel cards could help your business save a substantial amount of money via fuel price discounts based on usage. Fuel cards offering fixed weekly prices, for example, are a great way for you to forecast weekly spend, as well as protecting you from any fluctuations that may occur in price. In some cases when fluctuations do occur, decreases in price can be refunded, which is great news for the business!
When considering discounted fuel prices, the fuel cards offering fuel at wholesale prices are known as bunker fuel cards and discounts can only be given at the relevant bunker fuel sites. There are fewer bunker sites in the UK than there are regular fuel sites, so the question of efficiency needs to come into play. HGVs and larger canopy vehicles tend to exclusively use these bunker sites as they are much more accessible. As these vehicles are much larger, a greater volume of fuel is required, so considerable savings on fuel costs can be made. Smaller vehicles would need to be travelling a significant distance to have a high enough fuel consumption in order to make a significant saving. Therefore, it would need to be considered whether it’s worth potentially travelling further, just to get a bigger discount on fuel if your vehicle is smaller. However, if your fleet vehicles are smaller but do consume a lot of fuel due to long distance operations, then cards such as a BP Plus Bunker fuel card may be just as beneficial to you as they are for larger vehicles.
Not only are all of these benefits saving you money, but they’re also saving you valuable time and we all know that, in business, both are one and the same. One of the main perks of a fuel card, which can have a positive impact on helping a business run more efficiently, is the reduction of administrative time and resources. Even if you have a small business, fleet management and admin time can make up a large section of someone’s day-to-day work and use a lot of valuable resource in the process. Find out more about the 3 time savers a fuel card provides.
Whether you have a small or large business, using a fuel card means just the company is invoiced and one single payment is required. Not only that, but the confusion, worry and pressure that surrounds staff having to pay and keep their receipts after purchase is completely erased. When it comes to invoicing, everything should be tracked via the fuel card provider’s website and all invoicing will be produced in line with HMRC standards, making things even easier for you.
Statistics and facts are hard to argue with which is why fuel cards are also an effective form of measuring and planning for future operations and routes. For example, detecting the route taken by a driver and using the information on where they stopped for fuel and how often can give you a broader view of the individual’s activity, helping to improve the efficiency of the business. If you do this for each individual with a card in the fleet, you can cross-compare and work out the best course of action if there happen to be any anomalies. Keeping an eye on productivity levels within a fleet is key to efficiency and a fuel card can provide those insights easily.
Realistically, in terms of financial saving, it’s easy to see why using fuel cards are so beneficial to any fleet. So, aside from saving admin time and fuel price perks, what other benefits can they provide? Security! Many fuel cards have purchase restrictions and because drivers have individually assigned cards, they don’t have to carry cash on them, meaning fuel cards are a much safer method than regular credit or debit cards for employees. For more information on why a fuel card will save you money, please visit our blog posts outlining why a fuel card will save you money and answering the question, 'what are the benefits of fuel cards for businesses?'.
How They Work
Using a fuel card is a really easy process. The driver filling up simply presents the card when paying for the fuel and utilises chip and PIN. Drivers can still get a receipt if they wish to, but it isn’t necessary for business expense purposes as all transactions will be shown on the fuel card invoice from your fuel card provider. The only potential obstacle is when payment is declined. Here are a number of reasons why your fuel card may be declined:
- The fuel station being used to fill up the tank isn’t on the station network of the fuel card used for payment.
- There is a card error, such as an incorrect PIN code being used. Or perhaps the card may be damaged as a result of wear and tear which has resulted in a faded strip.
- An unregistered user is using the car - with many cards being assigned to individual employees, this is a very common problem.
If there are any situations where payment isn’t accepted, simply call your fuel card provider and as part of their service they should be able to detect the reason for the fault and come up with a solution to get you back on the road again.
The majority of fuel cards only allow you to purchase fuel and, in some cases, fuel-related products. However, hot drinks and food (the most asked about products) aren’t included in this allowance. There are a few exceptions to the rule, for example, the Fuelmate Supermarket Fuel Card which also includes car washes in their fuel card benefits.
The best thing about fuel cards is that they’re constantly developing and becoming more and more customised. If there’s a demand for more to be included in terms of benefits for particular cards, then those cards will eventually evolve to meet those needs for businesses.
Who Can Use a Fuel Card?
Individuals within a business can have a fuel card assigned to them by the company so that the company pays for their fuel. Fuel cards can also be assigned to particular vehicles, rather than the individual driving them, which is particularly useful if multiple drivers drive multiple vehicles within a company. However, fuel cards have to be registered to a specific company and, therefore, can’t be used by private motorists at present.
Fuel Pricing and Credit Checking Explained
Now let’s talk numbers. When it comes to calculating fuel prices, every fuel company has a different national pump price. Fuel companies buy fuel via a wholesale market in large amounts, at discounted rates based on volume. The companies then add their own mark-up to these prices before selling it to the customer. Although there isn’t a great deal of fluctuation between average pump rates between each company’s sites, there are a few things that can affect rates:
Location – Sometimes, sites in a remote location can have higher costs, due to delivery costs to their sites and lower purchase volumes.
Motorways – Unfortunately these inflated prices play into the fact that when you need fuel on the motorway, you don’t have many options.
Supermarkets – Although supermarket fuel prices don’t tend to be as inflated, as the economy decreases these costs will grow gradually.
Fuelcard Provider Pricing
In terms of the fuel card provider’s relationship with the fuel company, they buy their fuel in large bulk volumes from their various partners. As the fuel card providers get a generous discount from buying in such large quantities, they are able to pass this along to their customers, adding only a small mark-up so the transaction is financially viable as a business as well as beneficial to customers.
The cost of setting up a fuel card and opening an account should be free of charge and the best fuel card providers won’t charge additional fees for applications, switching cards and making changes to accounts. However, some fuel card providers sadly do charge for these unadvertised extras, so it’s good to be aware of some of the hidden costs that occur if you don’t research and pick the best provider. Below, is a list of the types of costs that some fuel card providers could attempt to charge you for:
- Application fee
- Additional invoice requests
- Rejected direct debit payment
- Unagreed surcharges on transactions
For more information on the fees you might be charged, please refer to our blog post on what to expect from industry fuel card fees.
When it comes to applying for any type of fuel card, a credit check will be needed. There’s no need to be worried or put off by this, it’s just a basic credit rating check that would be carried out the same way if you were applying for a debit or credit card with a bank. Also, the credit rating is based against the fuel limit you’re asking for on your fuel cards, so this amount is always taken into consideration when credit checks are taking place.
Fuel card providers can do basic credit checks inhouse or they can also outsource this process. However, outsourcing is a longer process and could lead to delays from the third party. When completing credit checks, there are a number of risk factors that the provider will be looking out for. Some of the most common risk factors include:
- Court proceedings.
- Number of directories.
- Out of character account changes.
Once credit checks are complete, the amount of credit given will be based on a number of different things, such as the duration of credit, your monthly spend and also invoice payment intervals. You can learn more about how fuel card credit checking works, here.
Employee and Employer Fuel Cards
Company fuel cards can benefit both employees and employers and they’re often not mutually exclusive.
For employees, the biggest benefit is often that they’re no longer responsible for their own company expenses. This means they don’t have to save receipts, log mileage or fill out long and time-consuming expenses forms. Furthermore, there are other ways in which a fuel card can appear as a perk or incentive to some employees. For example, if an employee has a set usage of fuel per month and has a company car which is used for personal use, if they’re under the usage occasionally, the company may allow them to use the fuel to the limit. As cards can be assigned to vehicles, individuals or both, it can also give drivers an extra sense of responsibility and help them develop leadership qualities. Little perks, conveniences and symbols of responsibility such as having a company fuel card assigned specifically to you, really can make a huge difference in how efficiently employees perform and also how they feel at work. Our blog post endeavours to answer the question, how do fuel cards work for employees?
For business owners, fuel cards are used in order to save money on fuel costs meaning the business can run more efficiently overall. Although fuel cards give employees the freedom of not having to be so involved with expenses, they also give that benefit to owners and managers too. Fewer receipts equal less effort and hassle for both employee and employers, thus allowing business owners to focus on those all-important stats and metrics that are produced from fuel cards, helping them to understand patterns and improve business productivity levels.
Applying for a Fuel Card
We're sometimes asked, 'can anyone apply for a fuel card?' and so we've written a blog post to explain the criteria in greater depth. When you decide that you want to apply for a fuel card after researching providers and comparing prices, you can do so in a number of ways. You can either call and speak to an expert directly or most providers will allow you to fill out an online application too. There are providers offering free consultations, giving you recommendations on which cards would benefit your company the most based on spend, location and budget. These providers offer an accurate and more in-depth insight after speaking with you and understanding your circumstances. We would highly recommend using providers like these for your fuel cards, as you will be safe in the knowledge that you’ll benefit the most from your accounts right from the start. Our blog post on understanding the fuel card online application process is also a helpful resource.
If you do decide to apply via the phone, the agent on the other side will most likely recommend fuel cards based on spend and location. They will then try to establish common routes made by yourself or your drivers, to ensure you’re applying for the most appropriate cards. Once the application process is complete, including credit checks, you should receive your cards within 10-14 days from the majority of fuel card providers. If the process takes longer it’s important to note that providers have to wait for some companies to provide them with the cards initially.
For example, if you’re hoping to receive a Texaco fuel card, the provider will need to have the card sent from Texaco first and, although this transaction is included in the maximum 28-day turn around, you may have to be a little more patient than if you were receiving a card created by the fuel provider themselves.
Can My Business Apply for a Fuel Card?
There’s often a lot of confusion surrounding who can apply for a fuel card. We have already established that fuel cards are not for personal use, and only for business use as they need to be registered against a company. However, many people worry that because they’re self-employed or a sole trader, this also means that they won’t be eligible to apply for a fuel card too. There is a misconception within the fuel card industry that providers prefer larger companies who will need more cards and have a bigger fuel spend budget. This isn’t true, as fuel card providers are happy to provide cards for a full range of business types and sizes.
Hidden Fees to Look Out for in Fuel Cards
We’ve already briefly touched on some hidden fuel card costs to look out for, but we also need to discuss the fees that you should expect to pay and why. Setup fees and initial fees, for merely wanting to apply for a fuel card, are an extra cost that not all companies charge. Some providers may advertise this cost as an extra admin fee, whilst charging you for your agreed and expected monthly account or admin fee alongside this. Any initial setup fees, no matter how they’re advertised, aren’t necessary for you to pay. If a provider is advertising this or has only made you aware of this at the eleventh hour, we would recommend looking elsewhere for a provider. To help you recognise the industry-standard when it comes to fuel card charges, we’ve broken down what to expect from industry fuel card fees in a dedicated post.
Charging a percentage for an admin fee once you ‘ve received your cards is understandable if that provider is delivering account management or an effective admin or invoicing service per month. In addition, you can expect there to be a cost per physical card initially, which is, of course, covering the cost of making a card which is registered to a particular person or vehicle. Now, unless the card needs to be replaced due to loss, you shouldn’t be paying for anything more other than your admin or account management fee per card each month, which you were initially made aware of. Find out how you can benefit your business by using fuel cards with no fees.
If you lose or damage your card, it’s most likely that you’ll have to pay to replace it, but be sure to check your policy on this just in case costs do already cover these circumstances. If you’ve received your fuel cards and, after a period of time, feel you need more, whether it be more of the same or additional cards on a different network, it should be an easy process for you to request more.
Most companies will have an online card management portal you can log in to in order to manage your card throughout the period of the account, allowing you to request more cards as well as checking your card networks and helping you locate the nearest stations. If your providers have advertised account support or management, you should be able to call someone within the accounts team who can then help you proceed with your request to add additional fuel cards to your account.
Using Your Fuel Card
When using your fuel card, it’s important to remember which card you have and which network of fuelling sites you have access to. Some sites take multiple cards, for example, Morrisons’ fuelling stations take both UK Fuels cards and Fuelmate Supermarket fuel cards, however, they wouldn’t accept a branded card such as a BP fuel card. Consider this before applying for your fuel card, in order to make sure you’re getting a fuel card which you can get the most benefit from and that won’t confuse your drivers. Our blog post answers the question, 'where are fuel cards accepted?' to help you.
There are so many different cards with different networks for this exact reason, so that there’s something for every business. It may be the case that you need multiple cards, a different one for each of your drivers perhaps? That’s completely fine and encouraged by most providers, in order for each individual driver to have fewer problems navigating routes and making the whole process more convenient for them. If the card you have isn’t suited to your drivers or business model, that’s when confusion and other problems can occur, such as cards being declined.
Why Do Fuel Cards Get Declined?
If a fuel card does get declined, there isn’t anything to worry about as in most cases, there’s an easy fix available. Earlier, we briefly mentioned a few examples of why fuel cards could get declined, however, there are a number of other reasons why a fuel card may be declined at fuelling station, including:
- Drivers buying unrelated fuel products on the card.
- Over-fuelling – as there’s a security limit on some fuel cards stipulating the
- maximum amount of fuel a driver can put in. If the driver goes over, it may mean the card will be declined.
Many drivers fill up at stations that aren’t on the network of stations compatible with the fuel card they’re using.
- The driver may have entered the PIN incorrectly.
- The card may be no longer valid, particularly if it’s registered to an ex-employee or a vehicle which has been written off, for example.
As part of a provider’s account management service, they’ll be able to help you as best they can to try and get you back on the road as quickly as possible.
However, there’s also the possibility that a card could be declined due to the fact there is a substantially overdue invoice for the fuel card. Each fuel card provider’s policy will vary on whether to freeze a card or not if an invoice isn’t paid, and the duration of time they’re prepared to wait before they implement this. Make sure you check the fuel card provider policy in order to understand the course of action they’ll be taking, should this occur.
If the reason a card has been declined is due to using the wrong fuelling site not associated with your fuel card’s network, there are a few ways you can ensure this doesn’t happen again. As part of a provider’s account management programme, there should be a number of easily accessible tools and methods your drivers can use to access the information of where they can fill up based on the network their fuel card has available to them. For example, the Fuelmate garage locator is easily accessible as it’s displayed clearly on the website and makes finding your nearest fuel station where your card will be accepted, simple to locate.
For those employees who are not a fan of using apps and online-based resources, your fuel card provider should supply you with alternative options. Satellite navigation map downloads are a clear and easy way for fuelling sites in your network to be highlighted to a driver offline. They can locate them via the online map and then download as a physical map of their own, prior to their journeys in a way that makes sense to them. Whichever methods work best for your drivers are recommended.
Reviewing and Analysing Fuel Card Activity
You may be wondering how to review fuel card usage. As part of an account management service, your fuel card provider is able to supply you with some relevant metrics and analytics in regards to the activity on each fuel card.
When you receive your invoice, you can use this as a way to track overall spend and be able to see if fluctuation has happened within the time period of your previous invoice, clearly and easily.
An online portal is generally the best place to manage your fuel cards, review mileage, cost and routes for individual drivers as well as for your whole fleet. Once you’re aware of habits and trends you can then change and trial different routes or even different fuel cards, in order to ensure the business is running in the most efficient way possible. We've broke down 5 simple fuel card management features for you.
If you’re ever confused or want to query any metrics, just call your provider and discuss it with them. If they’re offering an account management service, they should be more than happy to help and give you the answers and advice you may need.
So, now we have discussed what fuel cards are, their benefits, how they work, the application process and also fuel card management, we hope you have a better understanding of fuel cards for businesses. The most important things to remember when it comes to fuel cards are:
- That you need to find fuel cards that are going to benefit your business or the fleet you manage in the best way.
- Choose a fuel card provider with an effective management service and do your research to ensure there are no excessive or hidden costs.
- Use tools and online management systems to yours and your employees’ advantage to get the most effective use out of your fuel cards.
- Don’t be afraid to change networks or add more cards if you feel the company would benefit based on analysis of the fuel cards you’re already using.
If you want to know more about Fuelmate as a fuel card provider, browse our website and the different fuel cards we have available. Or, if you have any questions regarding fuel cards after reading our informative guide, please feel free to contact us.
As a leading fuel card provider, we’re happy to answer any questions you may have or if you want to discuss anything in further detail with us, we’d love to help. Please also refer to our blog post answering 10 questions about fuel cards.