Thursday, April 17, 2008

Killer credit card rewards

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. One 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.

Bank of America Brighter Planet Visa Credit Card

Want to use your plastic to boost renewable energy projects? This card benefits Brighter Planet, which helps combat global warming and fund community-based renewable energy projects. Current projects include a wind turbine project supplying electricity to a rural Colorado school district and a methane abatement project at a Pennsylvania dairy farm.

Basic rewards:

  • Earn one point for each dollar spent.
  • Points automatically redeemed each month by Bank of America to purchase carbon offsets.
  • Through 2008, Bank of America will make matching contributions. At the current price of carbon offsets, this amounts to about $18 total redemption for each $1,000 charged (or 1.8 percent).

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.

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

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 Web site. 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.


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