Chase Manhattan Corp. and Shell Oil Co. fused their three-year relationship Thursday by announcing the addition of a gold Shell MasterCard.

Industry watchers had been curious to see what would happen with the Shell MasterCard - Chemical Banking Corp.'s largest card offering - when it merged with Chase in April.

Aside from the gold card option, not much will change. The five million Shell MasterCard holders carrying the original cards bearing Chemical's name will have new cards with the Chase logo by November.

The gold Shell MasterCard is being offered with a $45 annual fee and a fixed 17.8% interest rate. It offers the same rebate structure as the standard Shell MasterCard with a free roadside assistance plan. If a cardholder makes at least nine Shell gas purchases per year, the first year's annual fee will be waived.

"The gold card has unique features that no other card has," said Gene Ryzewicz, manager director of cobranding at Chase Manhattan Bank in New York.

Cardholders who buy Shell gas earn a 3% rebate and net 2% for all other purchases. After reaching a $70 yearly cap, cardholders can earn a 1% rebate on Shell purchases.

"We are targeting the gold card segment of the population and offering a roadside assurance program that gives the cardholder the benefits of service like AAA coupled with a strong credit card," said Mr. Ryzewicz.

But some do not see the card as a good deal.

"Customers will have to attach a lot of value to roadside assistance," said Jeff Baxter, principal of Baltimore-based consulting firm, S.J. Baxter and Associates. "The only attraction is the generic appeal of the gold card. Many cardholders attach prestige to it, but $45 is a lot to pay when most gold cards offer no annual fee."

Chemical and Shell jointly marketed the Shell MasterCard - the nation's first petroleum cobranded credit card. Chase came in second to Fleet Financial Group, which has been offering a gold Gulf Oil MasterCard since May 1995.

By comparison, the Gulf MasterCard card has no annual fee and cardholders can claim rebates of up to $350 per year, compared to Shell's $70 cap.

John Stevens, spokesman for the Providence, R.I.-based Fleet Financial Group, said Gulf has about 100,000 cardholders since its introduction in May 1995.

George Yacik, vice president, SMR Research Group, Budd Lake, N.J., agrees. The American Automobile Association "offers a lot more than roadside assurance and to pay $45 for that sees a bit steep. Chase must think that there is a market for it."

Chase said more than $150 million in rebates have been redeemed since the Shell MasterCard was introduced in October 1993.

Since Chase and Shell's foray into the market, other gasoline card partnerships have appeared offering more attractive programs.

Amoco's cobranded Visa program with the Associates National Bank of Delaware offers a 2% rebate on regular purchases and 3% on Amoco purchases with no yearly cap.

The Sunoco program with Bank of America also offers a combined rebate of 5% with unlimited rebates, said Betty Reiss, spokeswoman for the Bank of America.

Shell Gold MasterCard cardholders can earn an extra 5% rebate toward free Shell gas when using the Shell Gold MasterCard to pay for a vacation or a cruise through Shell Gold MasterCard Vacations, and when renting a car from Hertz with the Shell Gold MasterCard.

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