AAFES activating fuel cards on England bases

By CHARLIE REED | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 21, 2008

The Army and Air Force Exchange Service on Friday began activating off-base fuel cards for drivers in the United Kingdom.

The cards are replacing the paper coupon system the Navy Exchange had run in England until earlier this summer — one that in recent years charged drivers for the higher cost of diesel, about 7 cents more per liter.

The switch from NEX to AAFES saw the price of mid-grade gas off base drop by about 80 cents to $4.393 per gallon starting Saturday, though prices fluctuate weekly.

"It’s a tremendous savings, particularly these days," said Robert Rice, AAFES general manager in the U.K. "People are actually going to get what they pay for."

Still, AAFES gas and diesel prices, which will be the same on and off base, have risen slightly because of distribution costs, said Lt. Col. David Konop, AAFES spokesman.

Diesel now runs $4.929 per gallon, while premium gas costs $4.506 per gallon.

It’s difficult to determine exactly how much fuel U.K. drivers are expected to purchase off base under the new AAFES system, but they consumed about 17 percent, or 7.2 million gallons, of the 41.8 million gallons sold by AAFES throughout Europe last year, Konop said.

AAFES hurriedly took over the program from NEX earlier this summer after the company that produced the coupons cut ties with the Navy.

To expedite the transition, AAFES has tied the fuel cards to Military Star credit cards, which drivers must have to get the off-base fuel card and which are used to pay for the rationed fuel.

Those who do not qualify for the Star card will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, Konop said.

"This was the fastest and easiest way to meet the need. Down the road we may be able to look at different method of billing system," Konop said.

Either way, the new electronic system allows the military and the British government to better track who is purchasing tax-free gas.

"It’s easier to determine if people are fraudulently making purchases. It’s also easier to limit how much people are purchasing with that card versus the coupons," said Maj. John Haynes, 3rd Air Force spokesman. "One of the biggest things that we have to be able to do is track purchases on behalf of Her Majesty’s Customs and Revenue."

Unlike in some other countries, motorists in the U.K. are only authorized to buy gas off base for duty-related driving. While errands such as buying groceries, taking your children to school or going to the doctor are acceptable, a road trip to Scotland, for example, is not.

"These are the guidelines in which they allow us to purchase the tax-free gas while we’re in England," Haynes said.

The new off base fuel cards are part of an overhaul of several driving-related procedures in the U.K., where about 10,000 of the 28,000 Americans there are registered to drive.