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Credit Card Rewards Programs: Rewarding... Or Not?
Author: Jeremy Zongker

In 1950, the first credit card that could be used at more than one, specific merchant emerged on the market. The Diner’s Card, started by Frank McNamara, was an invention that got its start when Frank was having a business meeting over dinner, and realized he had forgotten his wallet at home. Of course, the man was extremely embarrassed, and had to call his wife and ask her to bring him his wallet so he could pay for the bill. Then the light bulb over his head turned on, and he thought it would be incredible to have a way to purchase things wherever people shopped, and pay for them later. The Diner’s Card started with 200 card holders, and within a few years- banks and private companies began offering credit cards.

Eventually there were so many credit cards to choose from that the credit lenders had to come up with new ways to stand out from the competition and entice people to select their card over another. Credit card reward programs were born sometime around 1986. Discover card began offering cash back based on the amount of money you spent on your credit card, and the first “frequent flier miles” for credit card users was with Continental Airlines. The frequent flier miles were such a hit that now every airline has joined in the rewards programs, offering discounted trips, free complimentary airfare, travel accident insurance- all based on the amount of spending you do using your credit card.

Now that just about every credit card has some sort of rewards program in place, once again card companies are finding themselves looking for new ways to entice more customers to slide their credit card into their already overflowing card holders in their wallets. Rewards programs have to be turned up a notch, and become so amazing, so absolutely unforgettable that consumers can’t forget them and will apply for and use their card more than the other seven in their wallets when they go shopping!

Currently, the trend in credit card rewards programs appears to be creating cards that offer very specific rewards to cater to what people are doing with their lives. Michelle Shepherd, of MBNA Corp (one of the largest credit card lenders) says the rewards programs are developed with real people in mind, offering something for everyone “…whatever stage in life a person is in, whether it’s someone who’s trying to reduce a mortgage or someone dreaming of going to the Super Bowl”. This is seen in credit cards MBNA offers with rewards programs related to NASCAR and GMAC. Also, Visa offers several credit cards with Disney rewards programs- your spending earns you points towards travel to Disney theme parks and on the Disney cruise line.

Credit card interest rates have begun to rise overall, which is another reason why lenders are trying to entice new customers with their fabulous rewards programs. It would be hard for a card to sell itself to new customers with a high, unattractive interest rate- so lenders have learned to sell the idea of the rewards programs, hoping to gain your interest from that and divert your attention from the not-so-glamorous interest rates.

Keep in mind that while rewards programs can seem very rewarding when you are considering a credit card offer, there is often a lot of information you won’t find out until after you apply for and receive the card. Rewards programs often have limitations, meaning once you reach the ceiling you are no longer eligible for the rewards program benefits- information they don’t normally disclose in the credit card offers you receive in the mail. Also, for rewards programs that allow you to purchase items with points earned based on the spending you do using your credit card, keep in mind you will probably be charged additional money for shipping and handling of those items. For cards that offer travel discounts and airline tickets, many rewards programs require you to then pay transaction fees to redeem them.

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