A New Deck of Cards- Part 2

A New Deck of Cards- Part 2

Last month we outlined the current situation with Northwest WorldPerks members and the choice they face to either stay with US Bank and enjoy the newly defined FlexPerks (we’ll say it again, we love the name) or be lured away into the bonus mile arms of American Express, the official card of the world’s largest airline/frequent flyer program. Also, we gave readers the current trends, both sides of the arguments of rewards cards vs. cash back cards and outlined the typical needs of the four basic types of credit cardholders.

Co-branded credit cards of airlines and hotels are always affected by the banking industry, and in this month’s Opening Remarks, Randy Petersen assures readers that despite the new regulations and despite the forecasts from experts that these changes might well lead to the end or dilution of rewards cards, we think otherwise. Among the topics that are alive and certainly worth following in the months ahead are the continued rumors that the Hyatt Gold Passport program may end their nearly 20-year history of not having a credit card partner and announce a new relationship. Their current promotion offering bonus points when paying for a stay with a MasterCard shows their continued interest in teaming up with a credit card offer of some sort. When you consider that even hotel programs such as La Quinta Returns have a credit card partner, it makes Hyatt Gold Passport a less rich program when points can’t be added in with plastic.

Plastic, as we note in this story, seems to give members the ability to have at least some sort of leverage when programs adjust the relative value of their award charts. Hyatt Gold Passport members could feel disadvantaged by an equal comparison between their program and programs such as Starwood, Hilton and Marriott, which feature best-of-class credit cards.

Looking Forward

With Chase announcing a banked program similar to Membership Rewards and Club Rewards where members can exchange or convert their points one-to-one into the programs of Continental OnePass, British Airways Executive Club, Marriott Rewards and InterContinental Priority Club Rewards, it will be an interesting period in which some of us may rediscover the value and allure of having choices in our travel redemptions–rather than the singular options currently afforded by most airline-sponsored credit cards. Called Ultimate Rewards, we look forward to featuring an interview with the general manager of this new program in next month’s InsideFlyer, to hear firsthand where that program will be positioning itself in the industry and in the value proposition.

Beware My Fair Flyer

One of the biggest mistakes that any frequent flyer can make when looking for the credit card that best matches their needs is to rely on Google. Yes, Google is your friend, but Google can also be a dangerous tool unless you are totally aware of how the credit card industry works. As you may already know, credit card companies have affiliate programs for the Internet, whereby they offer various individuals the opportunity to earn a bounty for any new cardmember they bring in. This practice is not unusual and by and large we certainly have no objections to it. But it does cause an increasing number of entrepreneurs to try to earn money with the affiliate programs. These efforts are almost always fraught with misleading and very incomplete information, making it difficult for the frequent flyer to actually compare cards and get the correct advice to help them choose the best card–a decision which ranks right up there with actually picking the right frequent flyer program.

In recent WebFlyer/FlyerTalk research on credit cards, among those frequent flyers polled, 26 percent reported that more than 50 percent of their miles/points came from credit card usage and 38 percent reported that 26-50 percent of their miles/points came from credit card usage. So indeed, it is an important decision.

If you were to Google, “best frequent flyer credit card” or “compare frequent flyer credit cards,” you will find pages of links to such Web sites as creditcardtuneup.com, milecards.com, rewardscards.com, bestmileagecards.com and creditaddict.com. While purporting to give you advice and comparisons, none of them give an accurate listing of all the cards available in the class, airline or hotel, etc. The list of cards is incomplete because not all credit cards offer incentive bonuses for new cardmembers and most if not all of the operators of these Web sites are not really interested in seeking out and researching which cards are offered by each program.

Here’s an example that clearly illustrates the point we are trying to make. On creditaddict.com, here’s the verbiage for credit card miles: “Are you looking to earn frequent flyer miles every time you pull out your credit card? Or maybe you’re looking to jumpstart your frequent flyer account with a bunch of bonus miles? Either way, you’ve come to the right place. What follows is a list of frequent flyer credit cards that offer up to 20,000 bonus miles just for signing up. These offers are a great way to round out a ticket or earn an upgrade. Without further ado, here’s the list …” Sounds great, huh? Well, their list consisted of three credit cards–Escape from Discover Card, Citi PremierPass Card-Elite Level and Miles Card from Discover Card. Only three cards? And none of them are actually connected to any “frequent flyer account,” at least in the manner and language that our readers may be interested in. And of course none are actually associated with any airline’s frequent flyer program where you can “round out a ticket” or “earn an upgrade.”

This is truly misleading and serves as an example of how you need to be very selective about where you go to get your advice and information. We are somewhat amused that each and every one of these rating Web sites list the Starwood American Express card as the best card and urges you to enroll. We’ve found value in that card for years and can recommend it for its value, but when the Web sites show no other card, or a very limited number of credit cards from other hotel programs for comparison, it does lead us to suspect that the rating for the Starwood card on those Web sites is based upon the high payment they offer in their affiliate program to deliver new cardmembers. And we don’t say this to be disrespectful to Starwood.

The Cards

From what we know, this is the latest and most complete listing of credit cards linked to the various travel rewards programs offered in the U.S. We have not listed debit cards associated with these programs as we’re saving that listing for yet another chapter in this ongoing effort to educate our readers and provide the best information when comparing, analyzing and choosing one of the most important mileage partnerships you’ll have. This listing is ordered alphabetically, combining airline, hotel, coalition and even related rail loyalty programs all in one place.

AeroMexico Club Premier
Visa (US Bank)
Benefits: 1 Club Premier mile per $1 spent; 2,000 annual bonus miles plus $99 companion ticket with credit card renewal; double miles on AeroMexico airfare purchases; 10% discount on AeroMexico airfare purchases.
Annual Fee: $45.
APR: 13.24%; Variable, Prime + 9.99%.
Enrollment Bonus: 15,000 first use bonus miles plus complimentary companion ticket
Spending Cap: None.
Why we like it: We like the discount on AeroMexico airfare purchases, even if limited.
Drawbacks: None apparent.

AeroMexico Club Premier
Visa Signature (US Bank)
Benefits: 1 Club Premier mile per $1 spent; 4,000 Annual bonus miles plus $99 companion ticket with credit card renewal; double miles on AeroMexico airfare purchases; 15% discount on AeroMexico airfare purchases; Premier EQMs.
Annual Fee: $80.
APR: 13.24%; Variable, Prime + 9.99%.
Enrollment Bonus: 20,000 first use bonus miles plus complimentary companion ticket.
Spending Cap: None.
Why we like it: 5,000 Club Premier EQMs will be awarded when you spend $30,000 in net purchases in a 12-month period and we like the discount on AeroMexico airfare purchases, even if limited.
Drawbacks: None apparent.

AeroMexico Club Premier
Visa Signature (US Bank)
Benefits: 1 Club Premier mile per $1 spent; 4,000 Annual bonus miles plus $99 companion ticket with credit card renewal; double miles on AeroMexico airfare purchases; 15% discount on AeroMexico airfare purchases; Premier EQMs.
Annual Fee: $80.
APR: 13.24%; Variable, Prime + 9.99%.
Enrollment Bonus: 20,000 first use bonus miles plus complimentary companion ticket.
Spending Cap: None.
Why we like it: 5,000 Club Premier EQMs will be awarded when you spend $30,000 in net purchases in a 12-month period and we like the discount on AeroMexico airfare purchases, even if limited.
Drawbacks: None apparent.

Aeroplan
MasterCard (FIA Card Services/Bank of America)
Benefits: Earn one Aeroplan mile for every one U.S. dollar in new net retail purchase transactions.
Annual Fee: $60.
APR: Variable APR: between 11.99% and 19.99%. The APR you receive is determined based on your credit worthiness.
Enrollment Bonus: Receive 15,000 Bonus Aeroplan miles after your first purchase, balance transfer or cash advance transaction.
Spending Cap: None.
Why we like it: Because it’s better than nothing for U.S. residents belonging to the Aeroplan program.
Drawbacks: Not especially exciting offer and this fine print may be a problem for many to enjoy earning miles: “…purchases made by or for a business or for a business purpose … shall not earn Aeroplan miles.”

AirTran Airways A+ Rewards
A+ Visa Signature (Barclays)
Benefits: Up to 10 A+ Rewards credits for balance transfers; 0% introductory APR on balance transfers; earn 1 point for every $1 spent on AirTran Airways Travel; earn 1 point for every $2 spent everywhere else; double the A+ Rewards credits redemption period; earn 1 point for every $1 in balances transferred.
Annual Fee: $0.
APR: 14.24% or 17.24%; Variable, Prime + 10.99% or 13.99% (depending on credit history).
Enrollment Bonus: 2 A+ Rewards credits for using the card the first time.
Spending Cap: None.
Why we like it: Doubles the one-year expiration period of members credits.
Drawbacks: Only earn 1 point per every $2 spent. Only earn points for balance transfers the first 30 days after you open your account, up to a maximum of 10,000 points.

AirTran Airways A+ Rewards
A+ Visa Signature (Barclays)
Benefits: Up to 10 A+ Rewards credits for balance transfers; 0% introductory APR on balance transfers; earn 2 points for every $1 spent on AirTran Airways travel; earn 1 point for every $1 spent everywhere else; double the A+ Rewards credits redemption period; earn 1 point for every $1 in balances transferred; 2 $50 discount certificates from AirTran each year on your account anniversary.
Annual Fee: $39.
APR: 14.24% or 17.24%; Variable, Prime + 10.99% or 13.99% (depending on credit history).
Enrollment Bonus: 10 A+ Rewards credits for using the card the first time.
Spending Cap: None.
Why we like it: Doubles the one-year expiration period of members credits. The enrollment bonus is more than enough for a one-way reward flight or 2 business class upgrades.
Drawbacks: Only earn points for balance transfers the first 30 days after you open your account, up to a maximum of 10,000 points.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Visa Signature (Bank of America)
Benefits: 1 mile for every $1 spent; automatically enrolled in Mileage Plan Dining and Hotel Rewards and earn up to 5 miles per $1 at participating restaurants; 2 Board Room passes; earn 3 miles for every qualifying $1 in purchases of Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air tickets and vacation packages; $50 roundtrip companion ticket on Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air upon approval and on each anniversary.
Annual Fee: $75.
APR: 12.74%; Variable, Prime + 9.49%.
Enrollment Bonus: 20,000 bonus miles plus you will receive 5,000 additional bonus miles after you make net retail purchases totaling at least $750.
Spending Cap: None.
Why we like it: 2 Board Room passes and enrollment bonus is rich for this program, they have a good reputation for members actually being able to use their miles.
Drawbacks: Still looking …

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Platinum Plus (Bank of America)
Benefits: 1 mile for every $1 spent; automatically enrolled in Mileage Plan Dining and Hotel Rewards and earn up to 5 miles per $1 at participating restaurants; 2 Board Room passes; earn 2 miles for every qualifying $1 in purchases of Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air tickets and Vacation packages; $50 roundtrip companion discount on Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air upon approval and on each anniversary.
Annual Fee: $50.
APR: 13.24%; Variable, Prime + 9.99%.
Enrollment Bonus: 5,000 bonus miles plus an extra 1,000 bonus miles upon approval.
Spending Cap: None.
Why we like it: 2 Board Room passes.
Drawbacks: Weak enrollment bonus for the annual fee.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Preferred (Bank of America)
Benefits: 1 mile for every $1 spent; automatically enrolled in Mileage Plan Dining and Hotel Rewards and earn up to 5 miles per $1 at participating restaurants.
Annual Fee: $35.
APR: 14.24%; Variable, Prime + 10.99%.
Enrollment Bonus: 3,000 bonus miles plus 1,000 additional bonus miles when applying online.
Spending Cap: 50,000 miles each calendar year.
Why we like it: Not sure we do.
Drawbacks:Who to believe? Promo information reads no spending cap, terms and conditions read 50,000 mile spending cap annually; $35 for a 3,000 bonus mile enrollment and a credit line of only $2,000?

American Airlines AAdvantage
Citi Platinum Select World MasterCard (Citi)
Benefits: Earn 1 mile for every $1 spent on purchases, reduced mileage awards.
Annual Fee: $0 first year, $85 thereafter.
APR: 13.24%; Variable, Prime + 9.99%.
Enrollment Bonus: 25,000 bonus miles after spending $750 within 4 months of becoming a cardholder.
Spending Cap: 100,000 miles per calendar year, excluding bonuses. AAdvantage Executive Platinum, Platinum and Gold members are excluded from these limits.
Why we like it: We love the idea of the quarterly discounted awards, often 7,500 miles less than members without this credit card.
Drawbacks: While we love the discounted awards, we don’t like that they charge an additional $20 for the “privilege,” except for Executive Platinum and AAirpass members. Still don’t get the spending limit thing.

American Airlines AAdvantage
Citi Select American Express (Citi)
Benefits: Earn 1 mile for every $1 spent on purchases, reduced mileage awards, access to the Premium Hotel Program, which includes special offers such as room upgrades, early check-in, late check-out and more.
Annual Fee: $0 first year, $85 thereafter.
APR: 13.24%; Variable, Prime + 9.99%.
Enrollment Bonus: 25,000 bonus miles after spending $750 within 4 months of becoming a cardholder.
Spending Cap: 100,000 miles per calendar year, excluding bonuses. AAdvantage Executive Platinum, Platinum and Gold members are excluded from these limits.
Why we like it: We love the idea of the quarterly discounted awards, often 7,500 miles less than members without this credit card.
Drawbacks: While we love the discounted awards, we don’t like that they charge an additional $20 for the “privilege,” except for Executive Platinum and AAirpass members. Still don’t get the spending limit thing.

American Express Membership Rewards
(American Express)
Benefits: Earn 1 point for virtually every $1 you spend (Rewards Plus Gold cards will accrue 2 points during their first year of membership and 1.5 points during each succeeding year of membership for every $1 charged to the Rewards Plus Gold Card account with any airline or hotel that has a participating travel loyalty program partnership with Membership Rewards), points have no expiration date, earn up to 10x points with select partners such as financial services, gifts, health and beauty, home and office, retail and travel; earn 3x points when shopping online with their bonus points mall.
Annual Fee: There is a $40 annual fee for participation in the program. There is no fee for the program for Rewards Green, Preferred Rewards Green, Rewards Gold, Preferred Rewards Gold, Rewards Plus Gold, Business Membership Rewards, Business Green Rewards and Business Gold Rewards. The annual fee to enroll a Corporate Card is $75. There is an additional $10 annual fee for each Business Charge Card or Business Credit Card linked to a Membership Rewards account with other enrolled charge cards, unless you have an Executive Business Card, or any Additional Card of an Executive Business Card, or a Business Membership Rewards Card, or any Additional Card of a Business Membership Rewards Card linked to the same program account.
Frequent flyer program partners:
Aeroplan, AeroMexico Club Premier, Alitalia MilleMiglia, AirTran A+ Rewards, ANA Mileage Club, Continental OnePass, Delta SkyMiles, El Al Matmid, Flying Blue, Frontier EarlyReturns, Hawaiian HawaiianMiles, Iberia Plus, JetBlue TrueBlue, Mexicana Frecuenta, Singapore KrisFlyer, Southwest Rapid Rewards, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.
Frequent guest program partners: Best Western Rewards, Hilton HHonors, Jumeirah Sirius, IHG Priority Club, Starwood Preferred Guest.
APR: This varies by the individual card you have enrolled in the program.
Enrollment Bonus: None.
Spending Cap: None.
Why we like it: The breath of the program provides every sort of option to earn and burn the rewards of your plastic. We like the Points Advance, which allows you to “borrow” up to 15,000 points in advance for a conversion or redemption transaction. You may purchase points in 1,000-point increments for $25 per 1,000 points which you can then transfer to your airline or hotel program, which is often cheaper than if you were to buy them directly from the program itself—with their fees attached (you may purchase a maximum of 500,000 points per calendar year).
Drawbacks: For each conversion of points into frequent flyer miles of a U.S. airline, Membership Rewards charges a fee of $0.0005 per point, with a maximum fee of $75 (effective Sept. 1, 2009, $0.0006 per point, with a maximum fee of $99). While there’s a well rounded assortment of airline and hotel programs as partners, AMEX has always taken a hit by not having American, United or Marriott as partners. Cash conversions of .05 cents per $1 could be improved.

Amtrak Guest Rewards
World MasterCard (Chase)
Benefits: 2 points per $1 spent on Amtrak purchases; 1 point per $1 spent everywhere else. The option to redeem for airline miles, hotel points, Audience Rewards and experiential awards is available if you have Amtrak travel spend on the card of over $200 per calendar year (you may redeem up to 25,000 points per calendar year).
Annual Fee: $0.
APR: 0% fixed APR for the first 6 billing cycles following the opening of your account. After that, 12.24%; Variable, Prime + 8.99%.
Enrollment Bonus: 5,000 bonus points after first purchase.
Spending Cap: None.
Why we like it: The option to redeem for airline miles, hotel points, Audience Rewards and experiential rewards if you qualify. The intro APR is pretty appealing as well.
Drawbacks: Very, very confusing offer. For instance, the rules regarding the enrollment bonus read: 2,500 bonus points will post to your Chase credit card account and appear on your Chase statement and an additional 2,500 bonus points will post directly to your Amtrak Guest Rewards account and appear on your Amtrak Guest Rewards statement. Other confusing issues include saying that if you do not qualify for that product (World MasterCard), “you will automatically be considered for a Platinum MasterCard, which has different fees, benefits and credit availability.” But there are absolutely no links or other information about the Platinum MasterCard other than in the rules that the over-the-limit fee is $39, when the fee is free for the World MasterCard.

ANA Mileage Club
ANA CARD U.S.A. Visa (InfiBank)
Benefits:Earn 1 mile per every $1 purchase with this card; 10% discount for ANA in-flight purchases; 10% discount at all ANA group duty free shops at ANA HOUSE TOKYO (No. 1 Terminal of Narita Airport), ANA HOUSE OSAKA (Kansai Airport); IHG ANA Hotels Group Japan: 10-20% discount for room rates; 10% discount at “ANA FESTA” gift shop at airports in Japan directly operated by ANA Trading Co.
Annual Fee: $70.
APR: 1.9% fixed for first 5 billing cycles after your account is opened.13.99%; Variable, LIBOR + 12.49%.
Enrollment Bonus: 5,000 bonus miles after first purchase.
Spending Cap: None.
Why we like it: Among the minority of international programs that even offer a U.S.-based credit card.
Drawbacks: Credit card activity does not extend expiring miles beyond Dec. 31 of the second calendar year after the date of the qualifying credit card transaction. Slow posting of miles: Miles earned are not reflected until the 22nd of the following month from the closing date on the statement. Relatively weak enrollment bonus compared to competing U.S. issued credit cards.

Asiana Airlines Asiana Club
Visa Platinum (Bank of America)
Benefits: Earn one mile for every $1 in purchases; earn 2 miles for every $1 spent on Asiana ticket purchases and at participating grocery stores; automatic $100 annual rebate on Asiana Airlines ticket purchases.
Annual Fee: $ 80
APR: 1.99% intro APR for first 6 billing cycles. 13.24 %; Variable, Prime + 9.99%.
Enrollment Bonus: 5,000 bonus miles after your first purchase with the card.
Spending Cap: Earn up to 100,000 miles per calendar year.
Why we like it: Among the minority of international programs that even offer a U.S.-based credit card.
Drawbacks: There’s some confusion in the rules. Promo and T&C varies in the number of miles earned at grocery stores—it’s either 1 or 2 miles per $1 spent. Weak enrollment bonus compared to competing U.S.-issued credit cards. Slow posting of miles, it may take 1 to 2 billing cycles for the miles to be credited to your Asiana Club account.

Asiana Airlines Asiana Club
Visa Classic (Bank of America)
Benefits: Earn 1 mile for every $1 in purchases; earn 2 miles for every $1 spent on Asiana ticket purchases and at participating grocery stores; automatic $50 annual rebate on Asiana Airlines ticket purchases.
Annual Fee: $ 50.
APR: 1.99% intro APR for first 6 billing cycles. 13.24 %; Variable, Prime + 9.99%.
Enrollment Bonus: 3,000 bonus miles after your first purchase with the card.
Spending Cap: Earn up to 50,000 miles per calendar year.
Why we like it: Among the minority of international programs that even offer a U.S.-based credit card.
Drawbacks: There’s some confusion in the rules. Promo and T&C varies in the number of miles earned at grocery stores—it’s either 1 or 2 miles per $1 spent. Weak enrollment bonus compared to competing U.S.-issued credit cards. Slow posting of miles, it may take 1 to 2 billing cycles for the miles to be credited to your Asiana Club account.

Asiana Airlines Asiana Club
American Express (Bank of America)
Benefits: Earn 2 miles for every $1 in purchases; also earn 1 additional mile at participating grocery store locations; automatic $100 annual rebate on Asiana Airlines ticket purchases; two Asiana lounge passes (U.S. only) every year in the month of your anniversary date; 1 10,000 bonus miles certificate every year in the month of your anniversary date.
Annual Fee: $ 99.
APR: 1.99% intro APR for first 6 billing cycles. 13.24 %; Variable, Prime + 9.99%.
Enrollment Bonus: 5,000 bonus miles after your first purchase with the card.
Spending Cap: Earn up to 200,000 miles per calendar year, excluding bonuses.
Why we like it: Comparing the benefits to the $80 Visa, this card stands out, way out.
Drawbacks: Slow posting of miles, it may take 1 to 2 billing cycles for the miles to be credited to your Asiana Club account.

British Airways Executive Club
Visa Signature (Chase)
Benefits: 2 BA miles per $1 spent on British Airways flights, land products and vacation packages (excluding British Airways in-flight duty free purchases); 1 BA mile for every $1 spent on everyday purchases; $50 discount on all British Airways roundtrip transatlantic fares when you book on ba.com/get50; unlimited companion tickets with every purchase of a full-fare ticket in World Traveller Plus premium economy, Club World business class and first class.
Annual Fee: $75.
APR: 13.24; Variable, Prime + 9.99%.
Enrollment Bonus: 20,000 bonus miles with first purchase. An additional 10,000 miles after spending $750 on the card.
Spending Cap: None.
Why we like it: Right up there with the competitive bonus offers of partner American AAdvantage, and with the unlimited companion ticket, just might be cause for celebration.
Drawbacks: Another Chase confusing moment: Visa Signature says that if you do not qualify for that product, “you will automatically be considered for a Platinum Visa, which has different fees, benefits and credit availability.” There is no link or additional information about this “Platinum” card.

Best Western Rewards
Platinum MasterCard (Barclays)
Benefits: Earn 10 points for every $3 in purchases made at all Best Western locations, earn 10 points for every $5 spent everywhere else.
Annual Fee: $0.
APR: 13.24% or 16.24%; Variable, Prime + 9.99% or 12.99% (depending on credit history), 0% introductory APR on balance transfers.
Enrollment Bonus: Earn 10,000 bonus points with first use of the card, earn an additional 8,000 bonus points with balance transfers.
Spending Cap: None.
Why we like it: No annual fee, introduction offer on balance transfers and you earn bonus points for that.
Drawbacks: None that we can find.

Choice Hotels Choice Privileges
Visa (Bank of America)
Benefits: 15 points per $1 spent at Choice Privileges hotels (only 10 points per $1 spent with eligible MainStay Suites, Suburban Extended Stay, Econo Lodge and Rodeway Inn property stays), 5 points for every $1 spent when purchasing additional Choice Privileges points and Choice Hotels gift cards, 2 points for every $1 spent on everyday purchases.
Annual Fee: $0.
APR: 11.99% and 19.99%; Variable, Prime + between 8.74% and 16.74% (depending on your credit history).
Enrollment Bonus: 8,000 bonus points after your first use, another 8,000 bonus points after your first paid stay at a Choice Privileges hotel.
Spending Cap: None.
Why we like it: Among the richest point offers per spending. And, no annual fee.
Drawbacks: Confusing metric for points awarded among various hotel properties within the Choice Privileges chain as well as geographic.

Part 3 of our look at credit card options for frequent travelers will
continue in the next issue of InsideFlyer.

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