April 23, 2018 12:45 PM, EDT

Fuel-Card Partnerships Proliferate Amid Growing Competition for Discounts

Conard Transportation driver A Conard Transportation driver with a QuikQ card at the pump. (Conard Transportation)

Cost savings and conveniences offered through fuel cards are spurring an increase in partnerships among card issuers, truck-stop chains and other industry players as competition heats up in the fuel-discount arena.

QuikQ, which entered the fuel-payment business with its SmartQ radio-frequency identification payment system, recently introduced a physical fuel card that fleets can use at truck stops that don’t support RFID technology. The company also cemented agreements with Love’s Travel Stops, Pilot Flying J and TravelCenters of America and Petro Stopping Centers.

“Following our success with RFID, we were encouraged by our customer base to implement an actual mag-stripe card solution,” QuikQ CEO Dean Troester said. “It made sense to increase our footprint with the more traditional payment solution.”

QuikQ Truck Stop Deals

  • Love’s Travel Stops
  • Pilot Flying J
  • TravelCenters of America
  • Petro Stopping Centers

QuikQ’s partnerships with the three national truck-stop chains create a nationwide fueling network comparable to those of long-standing card issuers Comdata and Wex Inc. “We also have relationships with and continue to sign up super-regionals, regionals and local independents,” Troester said. “Our goal is to have our card accepted everywhere fuel cards are accepted.”

Meanwhile, Wex signed a 10-year contract extension for its fleet card with Sheetz convenience stores, which have diesel pumps at most of the company’s 550 locations in six states. Earlier this year, Wex also announced a partnership with TravelCenters of America and Petro. Through the partnership, Wex will provide fleet-card services to almost 500 TA and Petro Stopping Centers-branded locations, as well as to dozens of Minit Mart convenience stores across the United States.

“There has always been competition, but over the last several years as more people have entered the market, the competition has really scaled,” said Bernie Kavanagh, senior vice president at Wex. “Years ago, it was straight fuel card. Then we started to see oil companies purchasing cards to fine-tune their payments. Now the differentiation often comes down to the data provided from the cards and whether a program is closed-loop or open-loop.”

Wex Fleet One card

Wex signed a 10-year contract extension for its fleet card with Sheetz. (Wex Inc.)

Closed-loop programs employ a proprietary network that allows the customer to control where, when and how the cards can be used. Open-loop programs may employ several parties, such as a bank, a processing agent and a billing agent, to provide card services.

Wex has more than 160 closed-loop fuel programs or fuel-card offerings with major fuel distributors and regional brands. The programs offer “a range of rebates and tier-level discounts,” Kavanagh said, and include Wex’s universal program for fleets, which is “customized to meet each fleet’s business needs.”

Comdata, which started the fuel-card market in 1981, has what Chief Operating Officer Randy Morgan calls “universal acceptance” in the truck-stop community.

“We have partnerships with all the chains, and those relationships vary by chain,” Morgan said. “We work with each one to accomplish what they’re trying to do, knowing fuel is the common denominator.”

Comdata provides the MyFleet program for fleets of 100 trucks or fewer and the Comdata card for larger carriers. The company also maintains a portfolio of customized discount fuel programs it has negotiated with larger fleets.

“There are set discounts for the MyFleet program, depending on how much fuel you buy at a particular location,” Morgan said. “For larger fleets, the discounts depend on a fleet’s fuel network and how restrictive the fleet wants to make it. We help them manage the discount with a system that reprices the fuel in real time at the point of sale.”

The newest Comdata card, announced April 16, is the OnRoad card.

“This is a time when fleets need better solutions to attract more drivers,” Morgan said. “With OnRoad, drivers can easily manage funds while on the road, and fleet owners have more visibility and control of driver spending.”

Comdata's Comchek Mobile

Comdata's Comchek Mobile smartphone app. (Comdata)

The card enables fleets to send net pay to drivers and leverages the Mastercard signature debit network so that drivers can use it anywhere without a fee. Driver funds can also be accessed by using the card at banks and at thousands of Cirrus and Allpoint ATM locations.

Further Comdata offerings include Comchek Mobile, an update to the company’s paper cash disbursement feature that works with a smartphone app to allow fleets to upload cash to driver cards on a one-time or regular basis. The company’s FleetAdvance app provides real-time analytics to give fleets “more actionable data on where fuel is bought, the discount given and the discounts at places where the driver elected not to buy,” Morgan said.

J.R. Quinn, spokesman for Ace World Wide, a Cudahy, Wis.-based moving company, expressed satisfaction with the Comdata card his company uses to fuel its 80 trucks. “We’ve used the card for a couple of years now, and it’s pretty nice,” Quinn said. ”We get about a nickel discount per gallon, and if rates go up at certain times of year, the discount goes up, too.”

Conard Transportation, a freight hauler with 50 trucks operating out of Lavergne, Tenn., uses a QuikQ fuel card for multiple benefits. “Transaction fees add up quickly, and ours are substantially lower with the card,” Conard co-owner James Griffith said.

Conard also receives fuel discounts through the card that his company has negotiated with preferred providers and discounts on other products.

“We like the RFID feature, too,” Griffith said. “It saves a lot of time, and the physical card is a backup if there’s a problem.”

The fleet also can talk to a live person if needed and can review reports on its purchasing activity, he added.

We’ve used the [Comdata] card for a couple of years now, and it’s pretty nice.

J.R. Quinn, spokesman for Cudahy, Wis.-based Ace World Wide

Other industry players also are partnering with fuel-card issuers to support their carrier customers.

Digital freight broker Uber Freight, which last year introduced a mobile app that connects truck drivers with available loads, announced a deal in March to offer an Uber Freight-branded card backed by Comdata.

Uber Freight spokeswoman Julia Zaga said the card contains “some specially negotiated, Uber Freight-specific discounts” that include savings on fuel at all TravelCenters of America and Petro fueling locations and at certain locations in the Roady’s network of independently owned truck stops. The Uber Freight discount program also provides other savings, including up to 30% off on Goodyear tires, Zaga said.

RTS Carrier Services also offers a fuel-card program that includes fuel discounts, credit lines, check-cashing and online account access.

The company opened its doors in 2011 and now does business with 10,000 fleets, offering discounts on tires, maintenance, lodging and document scanning in addition to discounts on fuel.

Truck-stop chains, for their part, are generally open to accepting fuel cards as a way to provide greater convenience for their customers.

“We’re going to accept whatever cards our customers need and want us to accept,” said Lloyd Sanford, senior vice president of TravelCenters of America and Petro Stopping Centers. “But we don’t negotiate or offer discounts through the cards. Any relationships we have are with trucking entities, whether those are fleets, aggregate partners or other buying groups that allow small carriers to garner some of the benefits of larger fleets.”

Sanford said consolidation in the fuel-card market over time lowered the number of major card issuers to two, Comdata and Wex. “But it’s still a very competitive industry, and I think the addition of QuikQ is a good thing, because it gives fleets another option,” he said.

Jon Archard, vice president of sales for Love’s, said the truck-stop chain accepts all major fuel cards and has done so for some time.

“All features of the cards work at Love’s, whether that’s RFID technology, access to cash or use of the card to pay for tires, oil changes or other mechanical services,” he said.

“But we don’t participate in card programs involving fuel discounts,” Archard added. “We’ve found those programs to be a little inefficient in growing our business.”

Love’s “will always provide competitive pricing for fuel,” he said. Instead of offering fuel discounts, however, the company prefers to work directly with fleets “to add value by bundling services, like taking care of their tires and their drivers.” Archard said fuel-discount programs “are typically between card issuers and fleets.”

Pilot Flying J spokesman Anne LeZotte wouldn’t comment about specific partnerships with fuel-card issuers or benefits connected to the cards.

“Pilot Flying J is proud to partner with billing-card providers in the trucking industry,” she said. “We recognize the importance and convenience of this payment option for our guests and trucking company customers in our network of more than 750 retail locations across North America.”