[ 60 Seconds ] US Bank Altitude Reserve Card

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John Steward

John Steward, the president of Retail Payments at U.S. Bank (he came to U.S. Bank after 26 years at American Express) talks about the launch of their premium travel card—the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card, its consumer value and whether or not it can slay Sapphire Reserve. Along the way he reveals the strategy of mobile travelers and unveils the strength of Altitude Reserves mobile wallet spending. He also tells InsideFlyer what the name Altitude symbolizes for the cardmember and even goes off script to tell us why ‘Spectre’ wasn’t chosen among the possible names for the card. The card is available now to existing U.S. Bank customers.

InsideFlyer: Frequent Miler (blog) called your card the “Sapphire Reserve Killer.” Is that the intent of this card, to go head-to-head against Sapphire Reserve?
John Steward: I wouldn’t go as far to say that it’s the Sapphire Reserve Killer, but I will say that we are unapologetically entering the luxury card space. We strongly believe the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® Card offers a more compelling value proposition than can be found anywhere else, so cardmembers can indulge in their specific traveling pleasures and get handsomely rewarded for doing so. I will also say the recent competition among luxury rewards cards is a very healthy and positive step for consumers. As more consumers realize the wisdom of paying a bit more to get a whole lot more from their credit cards, the market will expand. The key for consumers will be to find a bank where they can feel confident they will get the premium service and rewards they want within their overall banking relationship.
IF: We know that the Sapphire Reserve card was huge with millennials. What demographics are you targeting with this new card? Historically this card niche has been for executives and road warriors. Is that still the sweet spot?
John Steward: We are not targeting a specific generation per se. We are targeting people who live life on the go and want to be rewarded generously for that lifestyle. Our research shows that this is broader than the traditional road warrior persona.
IF: Is there something that the disparate new benefits have in common, a theme around which you’re building the card’s offerings?
Steward: The product is centered on motion and mobility. Busy professionals are constantly in motion and whether they’re traveling for business or pleasure, it’s not always easy and it’s not always fun. They have come to expect a credit card that rewards them handsomely for these travels and earns points that are truly valuable and easy to use. Altitude Reserve satisfies these needs with 3x earning on travel and mobile wallet spend, 1.5 cents of value per point on travel redemptions and a suite of motion and experience related benefits that help make travel more pleasurable. For instance, Altitude Reserve cardmembers can receive trip planning expertise from Andrew Harper’s, get through airport security quickly with TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, escape the crowds with access to Priority Pass lounge privileges, remain productive, or not, during the flight with Gogo Wi-Fi, have Silvercar pick them up at the terminal in a Audi A4, dine at a James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour event and then retreat to their Visa Luxury Collection hotel room. And, if anything else is desired, cardmembers can tap into Visa Infinite’s highest level of concierge services. Finally, as it relates to our theme around mobility, a life in motion demands modicums of control, and mobile phones help make that possible, so we designed Altitude Reserve to give cardmembers control for exactly how they earn and redeem rewards. This is the first card to feature 3x on mobile wallet spend using Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Android Pay or Microsoft Wallet. This benefit enables the Cardmember to de facto choose the spend categories where they earn triple points on the things they like to buy – not just the categories a card presets for them. And we have created a mirror image of this experience on the redemption side, leveraging our Real Time Mobile Rewards redemption tool where cardmembers can use their mobile phone to instantly redeem for almost any purchase they just made with their Altitude Reserve card.
IF: There are so many things that the new product seems to bring to the traveler — what’s the best way to think about and communicate the value proposition of the card, given all the new add-ons?
Steward: Plain and simple: the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® Card caters to people’s more mobile lifestyles.
IF: It’s been assumed that a person has to have an account with U.S. Bank before they can apply for this card. Is this true?
Steward: This card is exclusively for U.S. Bank customers. We want to first offer this card to our valued customers as they are our #1 priority. That is not to say that you have to currently be an existing customer to get the card. We of course welcome any new customers to U.S. Bank who want access to our new luxury card offering, and they are eligible for the card 35 days after opening a new account.
IF: What types of accounts qualify (e.g. credit cards, bank accounts, mortgage …)?
Steward: Many different types of consumer accounts qualify, including checking and savings, credit cards, auto loans, investment relationships, CDs, mortgages, etc.
IF: 3X for mobile wallet purchases is a completely new and unique credit card perk. As more and more merchants accept mobile payments, how do you think you will be able to sustain such a generous perk?
Steward: You are right. This is a very valuable feature and the real beauty of it is that it puts the cardmember in control of their accelerated point earning. We believe that 3x points on mobile wallet purchases will be a powerful driver of loyalty and engagement and therefore worth the investment. We’re eager to see how engaged they become in the innovative benefit.
IF: Do you have any plans to offer point transfers to loyalty programs in the future the way Chase, Amex, and Citi do?
Steward: We’re confident that cardmembers will find Altitude points to be more valuable than other loyalty program currencies, but we haven’t ruled out point transfers in the future.
IF: Besides redeeming points for 1.5 cents towards travel, what other redemption options do you offer? Can cardmembers redeem for cash at 1 cent per point?
Steward: At our Reward Center, the primary options are for merchandise, gift cards, travel, events, statement credits and publications. But with Real-Time Mobile Rewards, cardmembers can use their mobile device to instantly redeem for almost any purchase they just made with their Altitude Reserve card. Cash redemption is at 1 cent per point.
IF: What are the specific airport lounge benefits? How many guests are allowed in free? Do authorized users get this benefit?
Steward: One Priority Pass Select membership is available per Altitude account and the membership includes four complimentary visits annually with one free guest per visit.
IF: What charges are eligible for $325 in travel reimbursements? Are reimbursements automatic?
Steward: Yes, the reimbursements are automatic and include all purchases made directly with airlines, hotels, car rental companies, taxis, limousines, passenger trains and cruise lines.
IF: Do authorized users get the $325 in travel reimbursements or is that limited to the primary card only? (Note: CNB reimbursements to all users; Chase offers credit only to primary)
Steward: The account receives up to $325 in annual credits, regardless of which card is used to makes the purchase(s). And our credit is for all travel purchases, not just incidental fees or certain travel providers like some cards.
IF:  We know that the card will be a Visa Infinite card. Will it offer the Visa Infinite Discount Air Benefit? That perk (found on CNB’s Crystal Visa Infinite and Chase’s Ritz Carlton cards) seems to be popular among the target base. (Note: This perk offers $100 off domestic round trip flights for 2 or 3 passengers.)
Steward: That is not a benefit currently offered, but we will be constantly evaluating new ways to add value to this product and if that resonates with our customers we will certainly give it a hard look.
IF: The Sapphire Reserve offers compelling travel protections such as trip delay insurance and primary auto rental insurance. Will the U.S. Bank card offer similar benefits?
Steward: Absolutely. Altitude Reserve offers a full backstop of protection features, including Emergency Evacuation and Transportation Coverage, which provides up to $10,000 in coverage to help you get home quickly if you or a family member are injured or become sick on a trip you’ve paid for with your card. Trip delay and trip cancellation reimbursement as well as auto rental collision damage waiver are included as well.
IF: Is there any authorized user fee?
Steward: There is an additional card fee of $75 per year.
IF: ​What is the composition of the card, metal seems to be a #thing. Was this topic ever something that required a facilitator in a meeting?
Steward: The card is engraved, stainless steel.
IF: ​The name does seem to be based on precious gems and rare metals. Clues to your direction?
Steward: There was quite the challenge in our naming meetings. If you’ve ever been in any they are certainly something else. We like that Altitude has a sense of projection. And I live in Colorado so it all came together.
IF: ​Can you give us a glimpse on what might be coming over the next few months?
Steward: Coming up is the addition of geo-location abilities to both enhance use, value and certainly contain fraud. We believe that technology is moving the fastest in this area and we are right there with benefits for our cardmembers.
IF: ​And finally: Any bloopers for possible names to this premium travel card?
Steward: There were about 20 at the bottom. Names we did consider were Emblem, Passage, Pivot, Fiber, Diplomat, Eclipse and Spectre. Spectre was my favorite to not be considered — could you image a card named for a worldwide network of evil (H/T James Bond 007)?

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Altitude Reserve Mastermind, Greece Direct Flights , Yanggakdo Hotel - TravelBloggerBuzz says

    […] Good interview with the guy at US Bank responsible for the new Altitude Reserve card. Interesting to see he came here after 25 years at American Express! I just can’t stand bank bullshitspeak, such as We want to first offer this card to our valued customers as they are our #1 priority.  Did you also catch the line about adding “geo-location abilities” to fight fraud? I can see now very annoying interruptions using it. We shall see how this goes. Question remains how.many.will.renew! Finally, I am surprised they added “Reserve” to the name…which I thought it was kind of cheesy Chase-y. […]


  1. steve says

    JOHN STEWARD: I don’t get it, at all. I can redeem flex perks points for about $.02 each at your thresholds, and the rest of these “benefits” are white noise.

    And I am right in your target – I am a US Bank card holder, also a small business owner. And I am here to tell you, USB has the worst customer service I’ve ever experienced in this space, by a million miles. Even worse than Amex at their worst. Kid you not. I can’t even begin to describe the depth of incompetence throughout the customer facing part of your operation (although they are all trying to be nice on the phone, I will say that).

    Here’s a simple example: I have a Flex Perks business card with you, and a couple of employees cards; don’t you think those points should be able to roll up into the primary account for easy access for booking travel online – just like Amex, Chase, Cap 1 and everyone else right? NOPE, not at US Bank for BUSINESS card holders. I’ve been fighting this for almost 3 years, and I was told at first, “appears to be there’s a software glitch, we’ll work on it” A year later it was, “there’s a software glitch we’re aware of it, but don’t have a projected date for a fix.” Now it’s just. “yeah there’s a glitch.” And this feedback comes only after I re-educate every front line CSR I talk to about what’s going on. Ask for a supervisor? Basically the answer you get is “I am a supervisor”. Then you go through all this, then you end up talking to a real supervisor who tells you, yes they know about the problem, etc. Just today: the comment from the CSR was, the business reward setup “is complicated”. Nightmare! And the arbitrary point thresholds need to go, I don’t have that issue with Cap 1 or anyone else.

    Even after I invest time on the phone instead of booking online, most of the time your CSR’s can’t tell what kind of FlexPerks card I have, so they connect me to the wrong travel partner to make the booking, and of course then the partner can’t find my info in their system, so I start all over again. Do you know how many times I’ve been on the phone for 90 mins to 2 hrs just to make an airplane booking over the last few years? At least half a dozen. And then I have to beg ave $25 fee waived, even though the partners clearly understand I am unable to do my own booking online.

    We had a USB individual card before this and the online travel booking worked okay, although the portal was inferior in a few ways. But the business card setup has been a disaster. I used to have $50k spend a month with you, now it’s $0, and the only reason its still open is that I still have points left – but I just can’t bring myself to spend another hour on the phone to use them up.

    I think this card is DOA, a weak offer with too many other good options out there. And as a separate issue, your customer facing service, both off and online, is not ready for prime time.

  2. Michael says

    I’ve got to agree with Steve. John Steward seems to think rewrapping something stale makes it appealing. If you want to beat the other top tier cards, you’ve got to do more than offer $25 more in travel reimbursement. I’ll stick with Sapphire.

  3. Ned says

    I agree. US Bank needs to address and reorganize their customer service before I would ever take on the Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® Card. I ended up ditching close to 50k in points on the FlexPerks because of the hassle it had become to deal with US Bunk (sic). AmEx has hiccups, but it is way more reliable when it comes to benefits, charge errors or merchant difficulties.

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