U.S. Bank adds a new wrinkle to premium card rewards

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U.S. Bank may finally give credit cardholders a reason to use their smartphones to pay at checkout.

The Minneapolis-based bank on May 1 will launch its Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite card, which is meant to compete with other premium rewards credit cards, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

This card stands apart in one major way, though: Cardholders will earn three points for every $1 spent on all mobile wallet purchases. The card will be compatible with Android Pay, Apple Pay, Microsoft Wallet and Samsung Pay.

While other cards offer big rewards on select categories, this is the first major card to offer such a large return on all spending – as long as it’s done with a phone. Whether that’s enough incentive to get consumers to finally embrace mobile payments remains to be seen.

Even if mobile wallets don’t take off, the Altitude Reserve offers a number of other benefits that make it a worthy competitor with other top-shelf reward cards.

Cardholders will earn:

  • Three points per $1 for all travel purchases made directly with airlines, hotels, car rental companies, taxis, limousines, passenger trains and cruise line companies.
  • One point per $1 on all other purchases.
  • A 50 percent increase in points value when redeemed for travel through the U.S. Bank travel portal.
  • A 50,000 point bonus after making $4,500 in purchases during the first 90 days of account opening. That’s a travel benefit worth $750.

Like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Altitude Reserve offers Priority Pass lounge access, TSA PreCheck or Global Entry reimbursement and no foreign transaction fees.

The most significant difference between the two cards is the Altitude’s mobile wallet rewards.

Differences between top travel credit cards
Altitude Reserve Sapphire Reserve
  • $400 annual fee
  • 3X rewards on mobile wallet purchases
  • 50K point bonus after $4,500 spend
  • $325 annual travel credit
  • $450 annual fee
  • 3X rewards on dining purchases
  • 50K point bonus after $4,000 spend
  • $300 annual travel credit

If the Altitude Reserve’s big annual fee is too much to swallow, consider a credit card that doesn’t charge you to own it.

Why target mobile rewards?

U.S. Bank found that both road warriors and travel junkies cited their mobile phones as a must-have necessity, says John Steward, the bank’s president of retail payment solutions.  By giving back three times the rewards on mobile wallet purchases, Altitude cardholders are effectively determining what their own bonus categories are.

The Altitude card “is all about motion and mobility,” Steward says. “We’re targeting folks who are constantly on the go.”

There’s no cap on the amount of rewards you can earn on mobile wallet purchases or travel with this card. But, Steward said, the mobile wallet bonus awards do not apply to purchases of cash equivalents like gift cards or traveler’s checks. And travel is restricted to direct suppliers and not third parties like discount websites.

Another unique mobile-based feature of the card is that you can set up alerts so that when you’re ready to make a mobile wallet purchase, you can receive a text asking you if you’re prefer to pay with your rewards points instead of adding the charge to your card.

“This gives you more control over your rewards on the go,” says Steward.

For U.S. Bank customers only

U.S. Bank has branches in more than two dozen states, but offers online accounts nationwide. We mention this because there’s one big drawback to this card: You have to be a U.S. Bank customer to apply.

According to Stewart, geography may not be an issue if you set up a direct deposit account, hold a mortgage or have a wealth management account with U.S. Bank. Once you set up an account with the bank, you need to wait approximately a month before applying for the card.

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