First Chicago NBD Corp. is sprucing up the offerings of its Marriott Honored Guests Visa program.

Facing competitive pressure from other cobranded hotel cards, First Chicago has expanded its card's rebates and benefits and renegotiated its contract with Marriott to extend past 2000.

With the number of new cobranded products that consumers have to choose from, "we had to look at ours, update it, and see if we could make a more complete offer," said Stephen T. Arnold, vice president and product manager of cobranded programs for the bank's First Card division. "I think we have done this."

The Marriott Honored Guest Visa was one of the first cobranded cards in the country, introduced in 1988.

It was the only such card for six years until 1994, when Fidelity National Bank, Atlanta, unveiled its Hospitality International Visa card, which provides rebates at an assortment of budget hotels. The Fidelity program has offered a choice of cards with no annual fee, or with a $20 annual fee and a 15.9% fixed interest.

The Marriott Honored Guest card has had an annual fee of $30 and an 18.15% rate since its inception.

Fran Dale, president of Entandem, Reston, Va., said that the primary reason for updating the First Chicago card may have been the American Express Hilton program, which was offered late last year. That card carries no annual fee and a rate of 9.9% above prime, after a six-month teaser rate.

"The Hilton program had a lot of exposure and got a lot of consumer awareness," she said. "It was good timing (for First Chicago) to do something."

James Accomando, president of Accomando Consulting, Fairfield, Conn., agreed that the new enhancements came as a result of competition from the Optima Hilton program. He added that such revamping frequently comes when partnership contracts are renegotiated.

As of March, the Chicago-based bank upgraded the existing card member base to Visa Gold and waived the annual fee for one year for new members.

Additionally, the program now offers three rebate points for every dollar charged at a Marriott hotel and one point for every dollar charged at other locations. Previously, it gave two rebate points.

All card members will be enrolled automatically in the Gold Level Club Marquis, which guarantees members reservations, offers 10% discounts at Marriott gift shops, newspapers under room doors, and additional bonuses.

First Card, through FCC National Bank, has $17.2 billion in receivables and 23.5 million cardholders.

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