In November, Old Kent Financial Corp. will ground a popular enhancement of its credit cards that awarded frequent-flier discounts redeemable on any airline.
The Grand Rapids, Mich., bank company had introduced CardMiles in January 1995 without an annual fee and with generous redemptions. So many people took advantage of the deal, however, that this summer the company imposed an annual fee. Then last week, it decided to discontinue the program.
"CardMiles' redemption rates and the cost associated with it were higher than anticipated," said David Kerstein, executive vice president. "We decided ending it was the best way to go."
He attributed the high level of redemptions to low air fares and the way the program was structured: Cardholders were given a $100 discount for every 5,000 miles earned. Four such discount certificates, earned with 20,000 miles, were enough for a ticket anywhere in the United States. Most programs don't award tickets until 25,000 miles have been earned.
Any CardMiles certificates earned through a customer's November statement will be valid and may be redeemed up to two years after the issuance date, Old Kent said. In addition, the $12.2 billion-asset company is refunding the new CardMiles annual fee that customers recently paid.
More than half its cardholder base had the CardMiles enhancement, Mr. Kerstein said.
"We have learned rewards programs can be very powerful," Mr. Kerstein said. "Just as many other companies are discovering, those programs do have some pitfalls. We will revisit loyalty and rewards programs again. We need to put this behind us first."
The announcement came as a number of issuers have had to reprice, restructure, or end card programs. GE Rewards MasterCard holders who pay in full each month learned in September that they would have to pay a $25 annual fee. GM Gold MasterCard holders, meanwhile, found out a few weeks later that their rebate cap had been cut in half, to $500 a year.
Citicorp recently sent a letter to Apple Computer-Citibank cardholders alerting them that the two-year-old program would end Oct. 31.
"Apple is in the process of reviewing its business, focusing on its core business and priorities," Citibank spokeswoman Maria Mendler said. The bank and Apple "jointly decided to discontinue the program."
Once the card expires, cardholders will get a Citibank classic card with the same account number. Terms and conditions, including no annual fee, will remain the same.
Cardholders can redeem the points earned from purchases on their Visa cards through Feb. 28 toward savings on Apple products.
Ms. Mendler said the program is a small portion of the bank's portfolio but had "a very loyal following."