In a changing of the guard, Chase Manhattan Corp. has dropped the British Airways cobranded card program, and First USA Bank has picked it up.
The deal with the Banc One unit officially ends a five-year relationship that had garnered 50,000 accounts-modest by airline card standards.
Chase Manhattan has substituted a cobranding deal with Continental Airlines, which required that Chase drop the competing airline.
"We saw that the Continental card would be more relevant to more of our customers than the British Airways card," said Michael Urkowitz, executive vice president of Chase Cardmember Services.
While Chase is targeting a small number of broadly recognized retail partners, First USA is amassing a large array of cobranded programs with partners of varying sizes.
"We are very impressed with the strong brand equity of British Airways and the quality of product they deliver to their customers," said Carter Warren, executive vice president of partnership/cobrand marketing for First USA.
A spokesman for British Airways said the parting with Chase last December was a mutual decision made by companies with differing objectives.
British Airways wanted to develop the card as part of a package of benefits for its best customers, the spokesman said. While the airline thought the portfolio could eventually double or even triple, Chase was interested in larger cobranded deals.
"We were not looking for the card to be a mass-market product," said John Lampl, a spokesman for British Airways in New York. "We are an airline; we are not in the credit card business."
He said the airline's goal is to to offer a "sought-after premium card for our executives, frequent fliers, and premium customers."
Jeffrey Baxter, principal of S.J. Baxter & Associates in Forest Hill, Md., said Chase has historically sought more sizable deals. The eight-year agreement signed with Continental in January is likely to attract customers interested in traveling places other than England, he said. Chase acquired the 140,000-account Continental portfolio from Marine Midland Bank in April.
"I think they probably felt Continental had a lot more potential," Mr. Baxter said.
One disadvantage of the British Airways program, Mr. Baxter said, is that the airline has limited routes in the United States and overseas travel is more expensive. Thus, the opportunity for consumers to earn rewards was limited.
Another drawback is that many frequent fliers on British Airways are not U.S. citizens, said consultant Stanley W. Anderson, president of Anderson & Associates in Arvada, Colo.
"If you live in London and you fly British Airways to the United States, you might be more inclined to take a card program that is issued by a U.K. bank," Mr. Anderson said.
The revamped British Airways Visa carries an annual fee of $50 for the standard version and $65 for the platinum card. The fee is waived for the first year.
An introductory interest rate of 4.9% for five months jumps to a fixed rate of 16.99%. Under Chase Manhattan, the card had carried prime-based interest rates of 19.4% and 21.4%.
Consumers can also choose one of four images for the card's design.
The program continues to offer automatic enrollment in the British Airways Executive Club program and lets up to four members of a family combine card activity to maximize the points earned.
Cardholders can earn one Executive Club mile for each dollar of purchases. The miles are redeemable for free travel on British Airways and its partners: Qantas Airways, America West Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Canadian Airlines, Finnair, and American Airlines (excluding trans-Atlantic routes).
New cardholders who dial a toll-free number will get 10,000 bonus miles after their first purchase, and 5,000 more miles after their first British Airways flight.
Robert Taglin, senior vice president of Advantage Consulting Group, Massapequa, N.Y., said British Airways was interested in heavier promotion of the card. Mr. Taglin, whose firm advised British Airways during its selection process, said First USA will advertise the product on the Internet and through special events.
First USA is also introducing a platinum card to the product mix. Mr. Anderson called this "a shot in the arm," saying that without platinum, "the British Airways card has been seen almost as an also-ran-a second-tier program" compared to those of American Airlines, Delta, or United.
"First USA has demonstrated some very good skills in building consumer loyalty and transaction volumes," Mr. Anderson said. "Those are the keys to this program."