Why do the same cards surcharged at Flying J's truck islands get cash price at the RV diesel pump? Not only that, but why does Flying J offer RVs diesel discounts to boot?
"Isn't that discrimination?" asks Pennsylvania owner-operator Gary Boyer. "That can be up to four cents cheaper!"
Member Mark Moseley reports that he heard an RV owner at Flying J buy diesel at cash price with a credit card. He couldn't help trying it too. "I went back the next day and ... bobtailed to the RV island." He filled his truck at the advertised price using a Discover card and avoided the surcharge. Another trucker reported calling in to the cashier, claiming he intended to fill his RV on the truck island with a credit card. He put 150 gallons in his Freightliner "RV," avoiding the $4.50 surcharge.
Les Tappan, member from Sunrise, FL, contacted Land Line with a complaint too. In August, Tappan pulled up at the pump only to learn that Flying J no longer accepts the Conoco card which he intended using. The Conoco card is still good on the RV island. He fueled at the truck island using his American Express card. He was surprised to learn that truck island use of Amex incurs a surcharge while tourists using Amex at the RV pump get the advertised price.
"When I questioned the manager," says Tappan, "I was told, 'that's the way it is.'" Thinking that the manager just had an attitude, Les called Richard Peterson at the Flying J home office. He got the same answer. Les then wrote J. Philip Adams, Flying J president and Adams replied. In his letter Adams justified the additional charge to truckers because of the card fee and pointed out that, "tourists do not receive a free drink and/or free shower or Frequent Fueler benefits." He invited Les to use a Flying J RV card at the RV pump to get the advertised price without trucker "benefits."
Adams' justification does not ring true to either Chris West, manager of OOIDA special programs, or Amy Washburn, an attorney with The Cullen Law Firm, PLLC, who represents OOIDA and the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Flying J and Pilot (and EFS Bank and its parent company).
West notes that "where the customer, RV or truck, claims all incentives offered by Flying J, the trucker is by far the most profitable to Flying J without the surcharge penalty." West isn't just shooting from the hip; he has been in the truck diesel business for more than 15 years. During a nine-year stint as Diesel Marketing Manager with one of the largest truckstop chains, West analyzed all credit card costs, and studied the cost of incentive programs offered by truckstop rivals including Flying J. If the detailed cost analysis used by West to arrive at his conclusion is correct, Flying J's policy seems to make little sense.
Washburn points out that while there is an economic reason for imposing a surcharge on credit purchases, it applies equally to both truckers and RV customers: "Flying J is charged by its bank for a customer's use of credit that's how the bank makes a profit."
Adams seems to suggest that truckers using Visa or MasterCard could bobtail to the RV islands to get the advertised price on diesel. If you do that, you won't get trucker benefits but you can get a (limited) one-cent per gallon discount with an RV card and discounts on food items. Adams would probably prefer that truckers do not inconvenience RV customers using that diesel pump.
OOIDA member Richard Kershman has a different gripe. He used a Flying J Transportation Alliance Bank (TAB) debit card to buy diesel. On his first statement he noticed a number of duplicate purchases, same day, same amount. The Flying J card swipe on the truck island had declined transactions several times but charged his account each time the card was swiped. "Because it didn't work, I swiped it through again, and maybe a third time before it took," says Kershman. "I had no idea each time the computer was registering the amount and I would be charged the amount three times on my debit card."
West says truckers using TAB debit cards should scrutinize statements carefully and if duplicate charges appear call Flying J. "Most debit card processors have computer routines to eliminate duplicates. It looks like TAB, the Flying J bank, does not use that feature." The TAB debit card is the only debit card that gets cash price at Flying J. West says it is a hastily designed program meant to reinforce the cosmetic changes recently made in rebuttal of OOIDA's credit card surcharge action. Those changes suggest that Flying J knows that its former "payment adjustment" on credit card purchases for truck diesel was wrongful, says West.
True debit cards used on the truck island incur a higher price than that advertised by Flying J, though banks pay such charges within 24 hours. Debit cards do not carry the fees that Adams cited in his letter to Les Tappan. West says Adams' justification becomes even harder to believe if you consider that trucker debit cards are surcharged for diesel at the truck islands, though the bank fee is just a few cents.
Do RV owners get preferred status? "Decide for yourself," says West, "but you'd better bobtail to the Flying J RV island if you want price equality when using a Visa, MasterCard, Discover or Amex to buy diesel."
-Sandi Soendker, managing editor