credit cards

Issuers push premium credit cards in 2011

Three Major credit cards; Visa, Mastercard, and American Express.
Highlights
  • Five major card issuers rolled out 13 new credit cards this year.
  • Chase and American Express offered new cards for affluent clients.
  • Two cash-back programs improved, and three cash-back cards debuted.

Business owners, the well-heeled and well-traveled, and cash-back enthusiasts all got new credit cards to choose from this year. Five major issuers rolled out 13 new credit and charge cards in 2011 with features and perks that run the gamut.

Capital One introduced three new credit cards this year, while Chase rolled out two new credit cards and American Express unveiled one credit card and a charge card. Bank of America launched two credit cards and offered three new small-business charge cards. Citi debuted one credit card this year.

Only Wells Fargo and Discover didn't announce new card products this year, but offered up some card enhancements to entice consumers.

"Demand has been low for getting new cards into the hands of new consumers," says Ron Shevlin, a senior analyst at Aite Group. "So, issuers really have been working on this constant upping and tweaking of cards."

Plastic for the pampered

The upper-crust consumer gained three more card options this year. Chase rolled out its Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card in June, while American Express partnered with Mercedes-Benz to offer a co-branded credit and charge card in August.

"The banks have been aggressively going after the super-credit customers because (the banks) want to manage their credit," says Dennis Moroney, research director in bank cards at TowerGroup. "So we've seen them really sweetening the offers."

The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card and Mercedes-Benz American Express Platinum charge card feature five points for every $1 spent at the respective co-brand company. Both cards offer a $200 annual credit for airline fees along with major perks at the co-brand company. The Platinum card goes one step further: Cardholders get 50,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first three months.

Still, the hefty annual fees -- $395 for the Ritz-Carlton credit card and $475 for the Mercedes-Benz Platinum charge card -- are a reminder these cards aren't created with the average Joe in mind. The Mercedes-Benz Credit Card from American Express is a bit cheaper with its $95 annual fee and offers more pedestrian perks suited more for the mass affluent than the uber-wealthy.

Globe-trotters get goods

Another favorite type of credit card for issuers is one that caters to the leisure traveler.

"Year over year, the only cards we see consumers willing to pay annual fees for are airline cards," says Doug Miller, a senior analyst for banking and cards at Corporate Insight.

This year, a laundry list of issuers eliminated foreign transaction fees on many travel cards. A few also introduced EMV -- a common technology used abroad -- to existing card products to cut down the hassle of overseas travel.

American Express went the extra mile this year and added new benefits to its Delta SkyMiles Gold and Platinum credit cards (annual fee of $95 and $150, respectively, after the first year). Cardholders gained priority boarding on Delta flights and 20 percent off certain in-flight services.

This year, Chase also unveiled its United MileagePlus Explorer Card, which offers one first checked bag free, priority boarding, access to airport lounges and the ability to redeem miles for any seat with no restrictions.

The Chase card is a streamlined version of its past United Airlines card offerings, says Miller. The issuer rolled through a half-dozen or so United cards over the past few years, each offering different annual fees and perks, he says.

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