American Express cardholders charged more on their credit cards last year than those with MasterCards, the first time that's happened since the 1960s.
The figures released Wednesday by The Nilson Report showed that consumers spent $540 billion on their American Express cards in 2011, up 13.4 percent from the previous year. That was enough to put the credit card issuer at the No. 2 spot behind Visa in total card purchases.
Visa credit card purchases totaled $888 billion, growing 9.7 percent year-over-year. MasterCard came in third with $508 billion, an increase of 6.1 percent over 2010. Discover rounded out the four with $114 billion, up 7.7 percent.
Still, the number of MasterCard credit cards circulating last year rose by 5 million, the most of the big four. Discover saw a 3.3 million boost in circulation, while American Express added 1.7 million. Visa actually saw a 5.9 million decline in circulation of its credit cards.
The report also noted that unpaid balances on Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover credit cards edged up 0.3 percent to $713.27 billion in 2011. That marked the first rise since the heart of the recession in 2008.
In another contest, Discover came out the big winner for its user-friendly website, taking gold in Corporate Insight's Monitor Awards.
The research firm noted that Discover revamped its public home page (along with American Express and Citi). Discover last year also increased its social media footprint by engaging Twitter users with its Six Flags tickets giveaway it started in October. The issuer tweeted a trivia question about Discover and/or Six Flags, and the first five people to tweet the right answer won tickets to the amusement park.
The contest underscores the growing trend of issuers connecting with cardholders through social media. For example, American Express has partnered with Facebook and Foursquare to offer special promotions to its cardholders, while Capital One, Citi and other issuers have used Twitter to field customer service requests.
Are you virtual friends or followers of your issuer? And which brand of card do you prefer to use?
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