Savings at the start of a so-called petrol price war between retailers amounted to small change for motorists yesterday, with the biggest bargains only available through “complicated” loyalty schemes. The price of unleaded petrol fell by up to 15 cents a litre to a lowest price of HK$13.04, with a 10 cent per litre difference among competitors, according to the Consumer Council watchdog’s fuel price monitor. On the forecourt, the industry is pulling out the stops to be seen to pass on cheaper fuel prices to consumers amid a Competition Commission investigation into cartel-like behaviour. On the stock market, oil yesterday continued to trade at low levels not seen since 2003. Motorists are being lured with fuel discounts – as long as they sign up to major brands’ loyalty schemes. Esso renewed short-term promotions for members with HK$2-a-litre discounts, plus giveaways of free rice and cooking oil. Rival Shell Hong Kong offered a voucher rebate worth HK50 off HK$1,500 but indicated little else to bring the material cost of fuel down for motorists. Assessing the benefits of a Petrochina loyalty scheme, a South China Morning Post reporter used a membership card at a forecourt in Lai Chi Kok to cut their fuel bill by HK$2.09 a litre off the HK$14.09 headline price. This amounted to a saving of HK$110 off a 52 litre fill-up that cost HK$631. Esso said discounts and promotions had become part of competition in the local fuel retail market and its loyal customers paid less than the listed pump price. However, teacher Man Ka-ho claimed such membership incentives were difficult to take advantage of. “The discounts are hard to understand because they [petrol retailers] make it complicated so you don’t know what price-cut you’re entitled to,” he said. Housewife Linda Tsui said the benefits of cheaper oil were not being passed down fast enough. “When I fill up, I notice the price is still quite high. The pace of lowering petrol is not proportionate to the rate of the oil fall. It’s not good,” she said. As it carries out an investigation into “competition issues” in the car fuel industry, the Competition Commission explained its new powers. “The Competition Ordinance aims to promote competitive markets to encourage businesses to offer better products at better price,” a spokeswoman said, acknowledging it appreciated and understood the widespread consumer concerns. The Consumer Council said it was still studying the data from the latest fuel price adjustment and could not yet draw preliminary conclusions. While there is a lag time between any fall in the price of oil to a reduction at the fuel pumps, between December 1 and January 20, the price of Brent Crude oil fell 36 per cent while at the same time forecourt fuel prices fell just 4.7 per cent.