Credit card rewards have never been better, but can they last?


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If ever there was a time to get a credit card, this is it.

As attractive offers flourish, from 60,000 bonus points available to new users of the American Express Platinum Card to Mastercard’s whopping 80,000 bonus points for IHG Rewards Club cardholders, consumers are enjoying an exciting courtship.

But some companies are beginning to take stock of how much money they’re making off of these cards and what kind of customers they actually have. The result: Some issuers have boosted spending minimums to earn sign-up bonuses and even have discontinued some benefits altogether. If you’re shopping for a top rewards credit card, lock in those deals now.

Tougher to earn big bonuses

Companies like Chase, for instance, are seeing the danger of risking so much up front — without a guarantee that new cardholders will stick around. Last year, the issuer slashed its Sapphire Reserve Card sign-up bonus in half, from 100,000 points to 50,000. Chase CEO Jamie Dimon cited a fourth-quarter profit loss of up to $300 million as the reason for the cut.

Some banks are using a split-the-difference strategy with their customers. Instead of holding back on rewards, they’re making the qualifications a little tougher. Both Citigroup and American Express upped their spending minimum on two of their rewards-heavy cards.

Citi Prestige raised the minimum spend from $4,000 to $7,500 in the first three months. Although a huge leap in cost, cardholders who meet this requirement stand to gain a heaping 75,000 sign-up bonus points.

Likewise, American Express hiked up its spending requirement for the Platinum card from $3,000 to $5,000.

If that big spending requirement turns you off, you may have to settle for a smaller sign-up bonus. Numerous cash-back credit cards offer bonuses in the range of $200 if you spend a couple thousand dollars — without the stiff annual fee you’ll find with premium cards.

Churners are changing things

The future of generous rewards is a big mystery, says Michael Taiano, director of the financial institutions group at Fitch Ratings.

“The assumption for many banks is that if they offer these rewards they can retain that customer and perhaps make money in other ways like cross-selling them on mortgages or big deposit accounts,” Taiano says. “Of course, one increasing concern are gamers. These are people who jump from card to card to get the rewards, which companies are trying to avoid.”

Companies are responding to people who try to game the system by designing terms to promote loyalty. One such example is Bank of America’s Premium Rewards Card, launching in September. Cardholders are rewarded proportionally to the size of their deposit balance with the bank. As you deposit more, you earn more.

Customers with $100,000 or more in a checking or savings account will earn an impressive 3.5 points on travel and dining and 2.6 points on everything else. Those with $50,000 to $99,999 will get 3 points on travel and dining and 2.25 points on other purchases and, finally, the customers in the $20,000 to $49,999 range will earn 2.5 points on travel and dining and 1.875 on the rest. This direct correspondence to deposit and points makes sense for the bank while still rewarding the customer.

Adding other card perks

Other companies, like Discover, are coming up with inventive, non-rewards ways to retain their customers. One such feature is its Social Security alert system, which gives cardmembers a notification if their Social Security number is found on risky websites.

Maureen Powers, vice president of rewards at Discover, said that she expects features like this to become an increasing part of her company’s offerings.

“While I can’t accurately predict what the credit card landscape will look like in five years, I would imagine that not only rewards, but also added benefits and features will gain the interest of customers,” Powers says.

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