Yet another gasoline cobranded card is making its way to market, just in time for summer.
As consumers in the Northeast hit the vacation trail, Gulf Oil Limited Partnership hopes to get its new MasterCard into their hands.
But the Gulf MasterCard, issued by Providence, R.I.-based Fleet Financial Group, probably won't top the oil card charts.
"At this point, the industry may be looking at it as just another (program) because so many are doing it," said John Callanan, editor/publisher of the Manhattan-based newsletter Journal of Petroleum Marketing. "It's probably picking up the rear in terms of coming out," he added.
Because it's a regional program - the Gulf Oil Partnership is a regional distributor of gasoline to 2,300 branded Gulf franchises in 11 Northeastern states - it will not compete in size or scope with some of the splashier launches like the Shell MasterCard or Exxon MasterCard.
Even so, "We are confident that the program will be profitable," said Elaine Weeks, vice president of Fleet's credit card division.
She predicted the Gulf card would attract 300,000 accounts in the first year, and would "ultimately be similar in size" to Fleet's Caldor Visa, another regional program.
Both retailers have a footprint similar to Fleet, which serves New York and most of New England, with $1.6 billion in receivables from 1.1 million accounts.
"It's our strategy to stay with regional (cobranded) programs," said Ms. Weeks. "We're looking for synergy with the rest of the bank and opportunities for developing broader relationships with Gulf customers."
The Gulf card "has the best consumer rebate in the industry," said Brian Earley, marketing operations manager for Gulf.
The card offers consumers a 4% rebate on Gulf gasoline purchases and 1% on general purchases, compared to Shell's 2% rebate on gas with 1% on other purchases. , compared to Shell's $70.
Sunoco offers consumers 3% back on gasoline purchases, 2% back on general purchases, but limits the rebate to 3% on gas after reaching $70. The BP Visa offers 3% back on gas, 1% on general purchases with a $300 cap.
The average consumer should be able to earn $100 in free gas without changing spending habits, said Mr. Earley. Fleet will share the costs of the rebate with Gulf, but Gulf will cover most of the marketing costs.
While the trend in cobranding has been an upward spiral of rebates, "we were not looking at competitive offers as much as the demographics of Gulf's customer base," said Ms. Weeks. "We priced the program to incent Gulf's customers to give up their other bank cards. We want share of wallet."
The card, with no annual fee, carries a prime plus 3.4% interest rate for the first year. It jumps to 9.9% over prime for balances under $2,000 and 7.9% over prime for balances over $2,000. There is also a gold card product with no annual fee and a high credit limit.
Mr. Earley said the Gulf card would be marketed to its 900,000 proprietary cardholders, as well as through take-one displays, radio advertisements, and billboards.
At the pumps, 50% of Gulf's credit card purchases are with general purpose bank cards, said Mr. Earley. He added that 40% of active Gulf proprietary cardholders use a bankcard to buy gas somewhere else once a week. "We're looking to change their buying habits from other purchases to all Gulf."