American Express Co. has signed an agreement with a French travel company to introduce a cobranded card abroad.
The card with Paris-based Accor, which runs a number of hotel chains, car rental agencies, and restaurants, will be introduced later this year in France. The partners plan to roll out the product in other European markets next year.
American Express, which has teamed up in the United States with Delta Airlines and Hilton Hotels, does not offer such a program abroad.
Industry experts believe the Accor card will be the first cobranded card available in several European countries from one issuer.
"It probably takes a step ahead of Visa and MasterCard, because we haven't seen (their) cobranded cards extend across different borders," said Donald M. Berman, president of Cardholder Management Services, Plainview, N.Y.
The partnership with Accor, said Mr. Berman, is a logical extension of American Express' image as a travel and entertainment provider.
"It is a further example of American Express' desire to find ways to grow its business," he said.
American Express chief executive Harvey Golub announced the agreement in Paris on Monday, nearly two weeks after he addressed an audience of U.S. bankers at a credit card conference in Atlanta.
At that conference Mr. Golub boldly attacked Visa, accusing the association of anticompetitive practices. Visa does not allow its members to issue American Express or Dean Witter, Discover & Co. card products, which is precisely what Mr. Golub proposed in Atlanta.
Mr. Golub used the Accor announcement as another opportunity to emphasize his stance against Visa.
"In Atlanta, I talked about the importance of companies having freedom to work together," he said.
Mr. Golub pointed to American Express' turnaround on the concept of cobranding.
"We were not originally convinced of the attractiveness of the cobranding proposition," he said, "but now have the power of the converted."
Accor customers will receive points for using their Accor/American Express card, that can be redeemed for Accor products and services. One and a half points will be awarded for using the card at Accor locations. Accor hotel chains include Novotel, Sofitel, and Motel 6.
American Express declined to disclose whether the card will be a charge, debit, or credit card.
Mark Sievewright, managing director of Payment Systems International in the United Kingdom, said the alliance would be particularly significant if the card turns out to be a credit card, since debit is more popular and widely used in Europe.
Also, Mr. Sievewright pointed out that French financial institutions do not subscribe to cobranding, and that if the Accor card is successful, French institutions will be forced to compete with similar products.
American Express claims that the Accor card will be the first cobranded card in France.