Randy Petersen's Opening Remarks – February, 23 2009

Randy Petersen's Opening Remarks – February, 23 2009

If you are looking for something to read after you read all of this, you might want to head online to insideflyer.com where I’ve pieced together a list of predictions for the year to come. While I haven’t done this every year, it’s a type of therapy for me to sit down and think about all the things I’ve heard and seen, and what I hope for from loyalty programs. Some predictions will be nothing less than messages of doom while others will be glimpses of hope — a hope that the loyalty extended by me and my fellow travelers won’t be relegated to the rubbish bin.

Looking to add some miles and points at year’s end (a Mileage and Mattress Run), I jetted off to New Jersey of all places just a few weeks ago to take a look at something that was quite rewarding. The location was the upscale Mall at Short Hills outside New York City. There, in the middle of one of the busiest malls in the area, between the in-mall display of the Porsche Boxster and the Bentley (only $179,990), was an oasis like I’ve never seen before — the American Express Membership Rewards lounge (to do justice to the effort by Membership Rewards, I have posted a few dozen photos of this lounge online at insideflyer.com). Nearly 4,000 square feet of pure bliss, open mall hours for the holidays, the lounge is there to provide cardholders with any number of pleasantries such as free gift wrapping, snacks and beverages. I hear the morning organic orange juice and afternoon chai were member favorites. And there was more than just the joy of escaping the maddening mall crowds — there was a clean private bathroom, several iMac Internet stations, a recharging table for electronics and a no-hassle shopping experience with merchandise offers (all on sale) from the Membership Rewards Holiday 2007 catalog to instantly redeem with points. All this, and you could walk out with a gift (cameras were the most popular). If nothing else, it was a great place to slip off your shoes and contemplate your holiday shopping list.

Something crossed my desk the other day which I got a kick out of. It was the announcement of the “new” Continental Airlines TravelBank World MasterCard credit card. Why did I get a kick out of such an announcement? Well, it’s not new. The first TravelBank MasterCard was introduced some 21 years ago, November 1986, when Continental Airlines introduced their first affinity credit card with Marine Midland Bank. At the time, Continental’s frequent flyer program was called TravelBank (it shared that program name with New York Air and changed it to OnePass in 1987). I’m pretty sure that some of my miles from the TravelBank days still live in my Continental account. It was hailed as a “Gold MasterCard” and members who acquired this new credit card to earn miles could look forward to a 2,500-mile bonus just for applying and another 2,500-mile bonus the first time you used it. In addition, the first six months were free and members paid $36 per year after that. And gee whiz, you were teased with a minimum credit line of $5,000 with the possibility of qualifying for up to $25,000 worth of buying power (WOW, a whole $25,000!). And there was something about the card that would prove to be one of our most popular recommendations: for an additional one-time fee of $25 you could request the TravelBank Dividend Pack. This pack contained an additional 2,500-mile bonus and two one-way standby first class upgrades for use within the mainland U.S. and Mexico when traveling on a coach ticket with no advance purchase required plus a two-month membership into the President’s Club lounges.

Now let’s see what 21 years does. Travelers who acquire the new Continental Airlines TravelBank World MasterCard credit card can look forward to no official relationship with Continental’s OnePass frequent flyer program, no bonus miles for sign-up, although you will receive a $50 bonus after your first purchase. Your bonus will be deposited as TravelBank cash into your continental.com TravelBank account that is created for you. In addition, you will automatically be enrolled in the continental.com Club and have the $25 initiation fee waived. That membership gets you $5 back on every ticket you purchase at continental.com which is added to your TravelBank account after travel has been completed. These funds can then be used to purchase travel to anywhere Continental, Continental Express or Continental Micronesia flies. In addition to being able to continue to earn 500 OnePass miles when you book your flights on continental.com, today’s TravelBank MasterCard earns you one percent TravelBank cash on all eligible purchases made with your card and three percent TravelBank cash on every eligible cable, wireless and telecommunications purchase made with your card.

Now that you see the benefits of these two cards 21 years apart, you’ll have to decide which card is the better TravelBank offer. While the 1986 card earned actual frequent flyer miles, today’s version promises over a one percent rebate toward future travel. That’s real cash that can be used. As for me, I’m stuck in the past (which is actually now the future with the OnePass World MasterCard). But I have a suspicion that today’s TravelBank credit card is going to be pretty popular.

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