Visa U.S.A. and Marriott Hotels Resorts and Suites have signed what they said is a multimillion-dollar agreement to promote each other's brands.

The alliance is meant to further solidify Visa's image as a travel and entertainment card as well as strengthen the association's relationship with Marriott.

Visa has offered occasional discounts for stays at Marriott properties, but this strategic alliance moves beyond that. Thomas C. Edwards, Visa's senior vice president for travel and entertainment marketing, described the alliance as Visa's "most expansive relationship."

"The opportunity to create programs with Marriott's other lodging brands is out there," he added.

Partnerships in the hotel industry are common for card companies. First Chicago Corp. was the first to come out with a cobranded Visa card with Marriott in 1988. Others followed, including American Express' cobranded ventures with Hilton and ITT Sheraton.

In this most recent deal, Visa and Marriott plan to develop a number of loyalty programs designed to prompt consumers to use their Visa cards at Marriott hotels and resorts.

The partners also plan to collaborate on smart card technology. Smart card applications could include, for example, developing a chip- and PIN- based card for employees of Marriott who don't have checking accounts, said Mr. Edwards.

The card could serve as a direct deposit account, allowing the employee to receive paychecks without going to check-cashing businesses.

For the general public, Visa is considering a prepaid stored value card that could be purchased as a gift for someone who planned to vacation at a Marriott property. The card could be used to pay for services and merchandise at the hotel.

Visa and Marriott are creating programs that would reward travel agents for booking trips on Visa cards and at Marriott hotels. Also, the partners are developing data bases based on cardholders' spending habits for co- marketing purposes.

"The smart card aspects and data base make the alliance unusual," said credit card consultant Frances Dale of Entandem Inc., Reston, Va.

In addition, the partners said they will jointly sponsor cause-related organizations such as the Children's Miracle Network, of which Visa recently became a sponsor.

Other ideas include expanding Marriott's promotional offers such as its "Two for Breakfast" weekends, which is a travel package offering free breakfast to people who reserve a room for the weekend. This summer Visa and Marriott enhanced the weekend package to include discounts on children's meals.

"I would expect to see more of that co-marketing with Visa where use of the card is a clear benefit for the customer," said Marriott spokesman Gordon Lambourne.

Visa cardholders will receive special offers from Marriott in their bank card statements. People who have stayed at a Marriott are already part of a data base the company uses for marketing purposes, and those people may also be reached through their Visa banks.

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