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)?