True to its promise, AT&T Universal Card Services has refreshed its rewards program with new partners and features, and has renamed it.

The nation's fourth-largest bank card issuer has quietly introduced AT&T Universal Card Rewards, targeting cardholders through the mail.

Most cardholders will be offered a rewards package featuring free AT&T long distance and points off their annual percentage rate, a spokesman said.

Those who use their cards frequently "will have access to a full panoply of rewards," said Mitch Montagna, an AT&T Universal spokesman.

The expanded rewards package includes a point structure with rewards at 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 80,000, and 120,000 points. Cardholders can earn gift certificates from retailers, hotel and travel discounts, points off their interest rate, and free AT&T long-distance calling.

The redesigned program, with its two versions, replaces Something Extra, which expired on schedule this month, two years after it was unveiled nationally with great fanfare.

"The industry is changing so much, we felt that a fresh approach was needed," Mr. Montagna said.

As with Something Extra, Universal cardholders earn a point for each new purchase, a point for each dollar they revolve, and 10 points for every dollar of AT&T long distance calls they charge to the Universal Card. Cardholders who transfer balances from other cards get points for past purchases.

Both programs were designed to reward cardholders for maintaining a balance, something that has been the goal of David K. Hunt, chief executive of AT&T Universal since he arrived in 1993.

Atlanta research firm Brittain Associates Inc. found that AT&T Universal has increased the percentage of its portfolio that revolves, from 14% in 1991 to 34% in 1994 and 39% in 1995. Preliminary data from its annual spring consumer survey indicates that percentage remains 39% this year, said Bruce Brittain, president of the firm.

"At least 60% of AT&T's portfolio are transactors," Mr. Brittain said. "That hasn't changed over the last 12 months." This is the opposite of most issuers, he said, which have 60% revolvers and 40% convenience users.

In 1995, Brittain found, 2% of the portfolio transferred to take advantage of Something Extra, as did 6% this year. "We didn't see that Something Extra had a whole lot of impact," Mr. Brittain said.

AT&T Universal had $13.4 billion in outstanding balances at March 31, up 13.6% from a year earlier, and 17.9 million total accounts, up 15.4%.

However, Brittain's research in the spring survey showed a 7% decrease in the number of households that carried a Universal card. "They can't be happy about a portfolio that stays stagnant. They are not turning people into revolvers. I guess they're casting about a bit," by coming out with a new program, he said.

Robert McKinley, president of RAM Research Group, Frederick, Md., said he was not surprised by AT&T's low-key unveiling of the revamped program. Today most issuers have some sort of rewards program, he said. "I'm sure they recognized that."

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