Shell MasterCard Is Back, But Is It a Sucker’s Bet?

Citi Shell MasterCardDuring the past couple years, it has become almost impossible to get a co-branded Visa or MasterCard from a gas station.

Most have been cancelled – and instead – they’re offering cards that can only be used at their branded stations and nowhere else.

Several years ago this happened with the Shell credit cards. Citibank, who was the issuer of their co-branded MasterCard, pulled the plug on it. They did the same thing for other stations, too.

Is it now back for the summer gas season?

If you look on Citibank’s website, you won’t find the Shell MasterCard application. Or at least as I type this review it’s not on there. However sometime very recently, the application started appearing again on Shell.com. I clicked to apply and everything appears to be working normally, so it’s not just a dead link.

But before you get excited, know that it’s a drastically different rewards program than what was previously offered.

New vs. old rewards

The discontinued version from 2012 and before offered a very lucrative system; 5% rebate on purchases at Shell and 1% on everything else. It was one of the best fuel cards around.

The new version that came out a few years back is a far cry from that. Here’s how it works:

 tiers for gas rebates

Now, you need to spend at least $500 per month just to receive any type of rewards. When you do that, all you’re getting is 10 cents off per gallon for purchases made during the next billing cycle.

In order to get the higher tier of 20 cents off, you need to be forking over at least $2,500 per month in purchases.

Now I know what you might be thinking: “I spend a lot per month on my credit cards so this seems like a good deal, since meeting those thresholds won’t be a problem for me.”

Well there’s a BIG CATCH you need to be aware of and that is you no longer earn a 1% rebate on your purchases. In fact, you don’t receive anything at all!

All your purchases made everywhere else that MasterCard is accepted are basically good for nothing, with the exception of counting towards the purchase volume to fulfill the tier requirements.

Give with one hand, take with the other

So basically what you are getting with the new MasterCard from Shell is a program that might actually be worse than even a basic 1% cash back card.

Here’s the math to show you why that might happen. Let’s say you spend the following per month:

$200 on Shell gas purchases
$800 on MasterCard purchases made elsewhere
————————————————————–
$1,000 in total monthly spending

Now that would qualify you for the 15 cent per gallon credit during your next billing cycle. If you’re paying $1.75 per gallon, that equals…

$200 ÷ $1.75 = 114.29 gallons

15 cent savings X 114.29 gallons = $17.14

Net Results = $17.14 in rewards for spending $1,000. That’s roughly a 1.7% rebate, which isn’t bad!

Is it worth it for anyone?

If you play around with different scenarios of spending, you will find it’s not a bad bet, actually. The primary situation where it would make the most sense is when both of the following circumstances apply:

  • You only use Citibank’s Shell MasterCard to buy fuel and nothing else (or at least it’s the vast majority of your spending).

-AND-

  • You are spending at least $1,000 per month.

If BOTH of those apply, it might be possible to obtain a rebate 2% or so.

Now if you own a business that uses a lot of fuel (such as doing deliveries or landscaping) then you might be thinking this could work for you. Well, think again because the fine print requires the purchases to be “for personal, family, or household purposes” which obviously excludes business.

explanation of qualifying

So how would they really know if your purchases were personal or business? My guess is that if you were really making a killing on the rewards program, they might investigate your account to see if the fuel purchases are really for personal use. Even though that’s just an educated guess, I think it’s highly probable.

But even that aside, your rewards would still be capped at only a max of 100 gallons per month, which makes it really hard to earn much:

first 100 gallons only

What’s your best bet?

Obviously you can see for yourself that the new MasterCard from Shell is hardly a compelling value. If you’re looking to score some sweet savings on gas, my favorite card programs are the following:

  1. American Express Blue Cash Preferred3% cash back at US gas stations. And yes, from experience at least, every Shell station I’ve been to has accepted AmEx for payment.
  2. American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card2 points per dollar at US gas stations. The annual fee is high at $175 but it’s waived for the first year. Given the strong signup bonus and benefits, it’s worth considering.
  3. Discover it – 5% cash back at gas stations for one quarter per year.

Sadly, I think the days of getting a good co-branded card from a gas station are over, though with gas being so cheap these days the flat cents off per gallon turns out to be a decent rebate (at least on the gas portion of your monthly purchases). Their cards can still serve a purpose, though; if you have a bad credit score and can’t qualify for a Visa or MasterCard from a bank. But aside from that, I see little reason nowadays to consider the Citi Shell MasterCard and similar offers.

 
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