Changing your reward card when airlines shift strategies


Cashing In
Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for

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Question Dear Cashing In,
I have a Barclays Frontier Airlines credit card, which I have had for more than a decade. Excellent credit score, never pay late, etc. But I don't like some of the recent changes at Frontier Airlines, so I would like to get a different card. Is it possible to change the card to an alternate Barclays-sponsored card to preserve the long and excellent credit history with them? -- Lynn

Answer Dear Lynn,
Your experience reveals a point that people sometimes miss: Rewards programs are constantly shifting. Sometimes, the way that you earn rewards changes or the redemption options change.

Or, as in your case, the bank's partner -- Frontier Airlines -- has altered its approach. Airlines shift strategies all the time. They merge, add and take away flights and build up and eliminate hubs. If you hold a card connected to an airline that is changing, you might need to take note and change cards. 

In 2013, Frontier announced plans to transform into what it calls an "ultra-low-cost" carrier. Following the model of Spirit Airlines and European airlines such as Ryanair, Frontier's strategy is to offer low airfares and charge fees for services that many fliers are accustomed to having included in the ticket price. Frontier charges for checked bags (starting at $20), carry-on bags ($30), reserving a seat ($4), in-flight soft drinks and coffee ($2), making reservations over the phone ($10) ... you get the picture. Frequent flier miles expire after just six months of inactivity.

Those changes can make business sense, but they often leave customers feeling nickel-and-dimed. Complaints about Frontier to the Department of Transportation have more than quadrupled in the last year. 

It's understandable, Lynn, that you might want to look around at other options, especially since Barclaycard's Frontier Airlines World MasterCard comes with a $69 annual fee. But you're worried about the effect of closing a long-held account.

Over the past month, I have tried to find out from Barclaycard's media relations contact whether you would need to apply for a new card or if you could simply shift your account to a new card. Unfortunately, despite a half-dozen emails and phone follow-ups to Barclaycard's spokeswoman, I was unable to receive a response. 

I called Barclaycard's customer service and asked what to do if I wanted to switch to a different Barclaycard, and the representative said I would need to apply anew.

In your case, though, Lynn, you might first check to see if you can switch your card to a no-annual-fee version of the Frontier card. It might be unusual to see the words "no fee" so close to "Frontier," but Frontier and Barclaycard offer a no-fee version that is similar to the regular card, but with a smaller sign-up bonus and lesser earning power. Often, you can downgrade a card to a similar card in the same family without a new application. 

This would allow you to maintain your credit history, avoid closing your account and have an easy way to keep your frequent flier miles in good standing by using the card at least every six months.

If that's not possible, however, you should cancel the card and find a new one that better suits your traveling preferences, whether it's from Barclaycard or another issuer. It's nice to keep a long-standing card with an excellent credit history, but it's more important not to be stuck with a card you dread using that offers you rewards you don't want. 

Besides, canceled cards remain on your credit record for 10 years so you'll keep the credit history benefit for some time to come.

Continue paying your bills in full and on time, and your credit will be fine -- regardless of the cards in your wallet at any given time.

See related: How to cancel a credit card, Switching to a new card from the same bank

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Published: July 28, 2015

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