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AmEx, U.S. Bank contend for rewards card customers

Banks squabble, sue over Northwest Airlines fliers

By Seamus McAfee

Credit card issuers are competing for the plastic loyalties of cardholders who flew on Northwest Airlines. 

Dispute erupts over former Northwest airlines fliers' rewards cardsIn the wake of Delta's merger with Northwest Airlines, American Express announced April 27 it will be taking over Northwest's WorldPerks rewards program. Meanwhile, WorldPerks' former provider, U.S. Bank, sought to stay competitive by introducing its own expansive rewards card.

American Express, which was selected as the exclusive provider of the credit cards following the merger, said it will seek to build awareness of the card in areas that were hubs for Northwest Airlines, and will combine the two airlines' frequent flier programs into one SkyMiles card.

Cardholders of the Northwest WorldPerks Visa Card will see some changes to their program as a result of the merger. WorldPerks cardholders will be able to keep the miles they've racked up, but will have to apply for the Delta SkyMiles card in order to earn additional miles. Delta is offering incentives to encourage WorldPerks cardholders to switch over, including waiving the annual fee for the first year on the Gold SkyMiles Card and giving out 25,000 bonus miles.

U.S. Bancorp, the issuer of the now defunct WorldPerks card, also announced it would introduce its own travel card called FlexPerks, intended to replace WorldPerks and compete with SkyMiles. In an interview with KARE 11 News, Bob Daly of U.S Bank said the card will allow customers to use miles for merchandise and to obtain seats on Delta and 150 other airlines.

Northwest Airlines responded by filing a lawsuit against U.S. Bancorp; the suit seeks to prevent the bank from issuing the cards while the two former partners dispute terms.  In its complaint to the court, Delta requested U.S. Bank be prevented from cutting off customers from the rewards program until Aug. 22, and to ban the use of the name FlexPerks. The airline also e-mailed its customers to warn them that U.S. Bancorp's "generic credit card" would not be accepted with Delta or Northwest.

 "...We are very surprised and disappointed that Delta Air Lines took this action," a U.S. Bank spokesman said. "We are confident that we are well within our rights to proceed with the introduction of our new travel rewards program."

See related: Compare reward credit cards, Many airlines now accepting plastic for in-flight purchases, Airline gift card comparison chartsHow to find the best airline rewards bonus miles deal The evolution of frequent flier credit cards and programs,   Delta frequent flier fees and rules, Debunking myths about frequent flier programs

Published: May 1, 2009



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