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Credit card extreme rewards: It's not just about the money

By Jeff Beneke

As the quantity and variety of credit card offers seem to expand like options on a Chinese food take-out menu, card issuers keep searching for new ways to capture and retain customers. Credit card extreme rewardsOne approach has been to appeal to consumers interested in benefits other than typical financial inducements such as low interest rates, no annual fees and travel rewards. By offering rewards that benefit the specific passions and interests of consumer niches, issuers have found that they can appeal to a particularly loyal base of customers.

Whether you are an extremely generous or loyal person, or someone in need of extreme pampering, there is almost certainly a credit card tailored for you. And if you are a partisan of long-term relationships, there is a credit card that claims it can make you a millionaire!

Extreme generosity
Yes, Virginia, you really can do good things with your credit card beyond feeding your own selfish needs and desires. Some credit cards offer a convenient way to support worthy charitable and socially conscious programs.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary Platinum Visa Card
This card benefits the Best Friends Animal Society, which operates an animal sanctuary in Utah and promotes the No More Homeless Pets campaign.

Basic reward:

• 0.55 percent  of purchases charged to the card are donated directly to the Best Friends Animal Society.

Target Visa REDcard Credit Card
Here's a credit card that helps build school playgrounds and purchase books. Select your kids' school or another eligible school. Through its Take Charge of Education program, Target will send twice annual checks to the school.

Basic rewards:

• Earn one point for every dollar you spend at Target and every two dollars spent elsewhere.
• Enjoy a 10 percent discount for a full day at Target every time you earn 1,000 points on your credit card.
• Receive a 10 percent discount on prescriptions at Target pharmacies.
• Target will donate 1 percent of your Target purchases to the eligible school of your choice.

The ultimate extreme reward card: The uTANGO promise

     In the world of extreme credit card offerings, perhaps none can match the audacity of the uTANGO Visa Card. "The only card that can make you a Millionaire!" boasts the website. What's the catch? Well, it's a big one-you need to stay married for 30 years. According to Jim Miller, the founder of uTANGO, the objective is "to properly reward long-term loyalty with real money."

     You can become a uTANGO member if you are single, engaged, or have been married for less than three years. Married members can choose a 10-, 20- or 30-year target, with a potential reward of $1 million for those opting for the latter.

     To maintain good standing in the program, you will have to do a lot of shopping. Couples on the 30-year track must charge approximately $20,000 per year at the roughly 300 businesses affiliated with uTANGO. Charges at Home Depot qualify, for example, while those at the unaffiliated Lowe's, do not.

     You don't have to be a skeptic to question this program. Every credit card issuer reserves the right to change the terms of the card agreement at any time, and uTANGO is no different. According the website: "In today's world, there is no guarantee that any business will be around in 30 years. . . In the unfortunate event that uTANGO is not here in 30 years, members will have at least been competitively compensated for their loyalty." It is true that uTANGO does offer annual cash rewards that are unrelated to your marital status, and it carries no annual fee.

     The uTANGO program is complex, and anyone tempted by the $1 million offer would be well advised to study the fine print in detail.

     One bit of important information that you will not find on uTANGO's website is the "terms, conditions and disclosures," which contains important information such as interest rates, fees and penalties, and the brass tacks on how to maintain your membership in good standing. Every other credit card discussed in this article provides easy online access to this information. But uTANGO provides only a phone number (866) 523-0847, where you are asked for your account number (that is, it's for members only).

     Further, if you manage to stay married for 30 years, and if you maintain your membership and if uTANGO is still around and still honoring the original commitment, you won't be receiving a check for $1 million. Instead, you will be paid an annuity over the subsequent decade at a rate of 10 percent per year. Thus does 30 years stretch into nearly 40.

     The website expresses uncertainty as to whether the uTANGO Visa Card could impact the divorce rate. But with that much money potentially dangling from a stick down the road, one can only wonder if it might one day become a contentious issue in divorce proceedings.

Extreme loyalty
Everyone has at least one substantial passion. Whether yours involves a pet, a theme park, a city, or a sports team, chances are that you will be able to merge that loyalty with a credit card. Here are a few examples: 

Bank of America PetRewards Platinum Plus Visa Card
(Editor's note: As of December, 2008, this card is no longer available) Pets are great, but they can be a costly indulgence. This card can take a bite out of that financial strain, while offering you the opportunity to carry a credit card emblazoned with your pet's photo.

Basic rewards:

• Personalize your card with a photo of your pet or choose from one of three stock designs.
• Earn one point for every dollar you spend on everyday purchases and two points for purchases at participating veterinary clinics and pet stores.
• Redeem rewards for pet food discounts, veterinary care savings and shelter donations.

Disney Rewards Visa Card from Chase
How many households can you think of that have kids, but don't have at least a few Disney-related items and a desire to visit a Disney theme park? Probably not many, and that's why a Disney-branded credit card appeals to so many parents.

Basic rewards:

• Earn one reward dollar for every $100 of card purchases.
• Redeem reward dollars throughout the Disney empire--Disney stores, theme parks, cruise lines, and through the Disney catalog (clothing, DVDs, toys).
• Receive additional theme park discounts, with no blackout dates.
• Pay 0 percent interest for six months on select vacation packages.
• Choose among six different Disney-theme card designs.

IN:CHICAGO Card from American Express
If Chicago is your kind of town, the IN:CHICAGO Card might be your kind of credit card.

Basic rewards:

• Earn one point for each dollar spent anywhere, and double points for selective services in the city.
• Redeem your points for rewards (dining, entertainment) in Chicago, and receive special discounts on a range of activities around town.

American Express offers similar cards for New York City and Los Angeles, and points earned on each card are redeemable in all three cities.

Nordstrom Visa Signature® Credit Card
Store-branded cards can be great choices for frequent shoppers. Nordstrom's is one retailer whose card was rated highly by an October 2007 Consumer Reports survey.

Basic rewards:

• Earn two reward points for each dollar spent at Nordstrom's, and one reward point for card purchases elsewhere.
• Earn double rewards during special sales held twice annually.
• Automatically receive $20 Nordstrom Notes by mail every time you accumulate 2,000 reward points.
• Free concierge services.

The KISS Visa Card with Chase Flexible Rewards
Fans of aging rock stars with painted faces and prominent tongues can bond with their musical heroes financially with this card. For better or for worse, there don't seem to be any KISS-specific rewards associated with this card beyond the colorful face of the card itself.

Basic rewards:

• Earn one point for each dollar of card purchases.
• Redeem points for the typical array of travel, cash, and merchandise offerings.

Extreme gamble
Enjoy rolling the dice? Rest assured that you can find a credit card to satisfy the craving.

American DreamCard
This card centers around a monthly jackpot drawing. The jackpot, which is equal to 0.5 percent of total dollars spent by cardholders that month, has ranged from $12,000 to $25,000 over the past two years. Winners' names are posted on the website. The more you charge, the better your odds of winning. This is probably not, however, a smart choice for those with gambling and shopping addictions.

Basic rewards:

• Earn one entry into monthly drawing for each dollar charged.
• With Lady Luck's cooperation, win the monthly jackpot.

Extreme pampering
"Concierge service" and "exclusive" are buzzwords in the promotional efforts aimed at credit card customers looking for a little extra attention. These cards tend to flow to high net-worth customers seeking individualized service, flexible or substantial credit limits, and a helping hand with scoring dinner reservations or finding a gift.

American Express Platinum Card
If you want more, sometimes you have to pay more. This card carries a hefty $450 annual fee, but promises experiences "that are a cut above the rest."

Basic rewards:

• Exclusive travel benefits (airport club access, cruise discounts, hotel upgrades).
• Concierge service.
• Access to invitation-only events.

MERRILL+ Visa+ Credit Card
If your idea of being pampered is having the option to spend huge amounts of money, here's a card that offers credit limits up to a whopping $250,000.

Basic rewards:

• Earn one point for each dollar spent.
• Redeem points for air rewards (any airline, no blackout dates) or merchandise.
• Concierge service.

Bank of America Rewards American Express Card
Here's a card available to consumers with good, but not necessarily great, credit ratings.

Basic rewards:

• Earn one point for each dollar charged.
• Redeem points for travel (no blackout dates), hotel discounts, cash, or merchandise.
• Flexibility to pay balance over time.
• Concierge service.

Updated: December 5, 2008


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