Three years after losing the credit card processing business of United Airlines to rival First Data Corp., National Processing Co. is back in the air with United.

National Processing, of Louisville, Ky., went to United as the three-year First Data contract was set to expire and won the business back with a simple promise, according to National Processing chief executive officer Thomas A. Wimsett.

"United Airlines will save money by working with NPC because we will help them qualify their transactions at lower interchange levels," he said. "Our core competency is the airline business."

With the addition of United, National Processing now does card processing for six of the 10 largest U.S. airlines, the other five being Delta Air Lines Inc., Continental Airlines Inc., Southwest Airlines Co., America West Holdings, and U.S. Airways Group Inc. It will handle both authorization and settlement for United.

The savings for United will come from reduced interchange rather than from lower fees charged by National Processing. "Seventy-five to 90% of the cost is the interchange fee paid to the issuing bank," Mr. Wimsett said. Big accounts usually come with thin profit margins, but they help give National Processing "the scale to have a cost-competitive infrastructure and a service culture second to none in the industry," he said. "The mom-and-pop businesses give us higher profit margins."

That infrastructure helps National Processing's big customers qualify for one of the lowest of about 50 Visa and MasterCard interchange rate categories.

"We've developed a lot of proprietary applications that alert us if there are issues with transactions, so we can get those issues resolved," Mr. Wimsett said.

He said National Data's chargeback ratio is one of the lowest in the industry and that the company has won an award from Visa U.S.A. for best chargeback performance seven years in a row.

He would not reveal the length of the United contract.

United is the largest air carrier in the world, serving 26 countries with more than 2,330 scheduled flights a day.

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