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Credit Cards

Card Issuers Trawl for Deep Pockets

Credit card companies are using new methods to lure new customers.

Direct-mail offers for new credit cards fell off a cliff this year as card issuers concentrated on improving their bottom line. Now, banks are beginning to woo new premium-card customers, who are less likely to default on card balances.

Among the new flavors of cards with cachet is the Sapphire from Chase (12.24% annual interest rate;, which is being marketed to the top 15% of U.S. households by income.

Truth is, the Sapphire resembles many Visa Signature and World MasterCards. All such cards offer a suite of benefits, including 24/7 customer service and emergency assistance. But the Sapphire does have some extras worth noting. There is no annual fee and no earnings cap, your points never expire, and there are no blackout dates when you cannot use your points for travel (cards issued by Bank of America and Citibank have an expiration date for points, and some have annual fees).

You earn one point for every dollar spent, double points if you book travel through the card and up to ten points if you buy something from a participating online merchant. Points may be redeemed for travel, gift cards, entertainment or cash. Frequent travelers may be willing to spend $95 a year for the Sapphire Preferred card (the annual fee is waived the first year). With Preferred, your points are worth more when you redeem them online for travel, and you may transfer them point for point to airline and hotel programs. Chase is also touting its new Blueprint feature, which allows customers to decide which purchases they will pay in full and which they will pay off gradually.