In a bid to win new accounts, NationsBank is offering a free companion ticket on Delta Air Lines with a low-rate Visa Gold card.

"The offer is a way for us to add some value to a card product for new customers and to differentiate our product in the market," said Robert E. Stock, director of marketing for the bank's card services in Charlotte, N.C.

A mail solicitation, encouraging consumers to transfer balances, began in mid-September. The offer expires Oct. 20.

NationsBank Corp., the 13th-largest credit card issuer, is uhderwriting the cost of the promotion except for the tickets, which Delta will furnish.

Low APR to Start

Consumers who apply for the card will pay a 6% annual percentage rate through February. Then the APR will rise to prime plus 9.9%, or 15.9% at today's rate.

The $35 annual fee is waived for the first year, but one purchase made on the Visa card in the following year will eliminate the fee again.

The solicitation letter also touts the card's 25-day grace period, mentioning how other issuers are "quietly doing away with their grace periods."

Cardholders can redeem a certificate that comes with the new card for a companion's airline ticket between Jan. 5 and May 1 to any of Delta's worldwide destinations.

No Deep Discount

Though the free ticket can be used in first, business' or economy class, the airline does not permit the traveler to purchase his or her ticket at a deep discount.

"Free companion tickets are not new to the airline industry, but this is the first time Delta has entered into such a par ship where the bank is the initiator of the program," said Sheila Huestess, manager of marketing and brand management programs at Delta Air Lines in Atlanta.

The promotion combines fairly common perks -- an introductory rate, annual fee waiver, and a free companion ticket -- but together they form a unique product, according to Claire Braverman, vice president of BAI, a market research company in Tarrytown, N.Y.

|An Unusual Bonus'

"A free companion ticket, because of its value, is an unusual bonus to get just for applying for a card."

Furthermore, she points out that most bonus features relate to card usage in some way, and the NationsBank offer does not stipulate that the airline ticket must be purchased with the Visa Gold card.

"When a customer opens a checking account, it is not uncommon to get a free gift like a toaster," said Ms. Braverman. "But in the credit card business a bonus is usually linked to the card somehow."

Star Bank in Cincinnati, which has become one of the card industry's "price leaders," is promising low interest rates for the long haul to customers who transfer their balances from other banks.

New or existing Star Bank MasterCard or Visa holders can get an 8.9% interest rate on gold cards or 9.9% on standard cards if they transfer at least $ 1,000 Of balances.

The rates hold for one year and apply to all balances in the eligible account.

Beyond the first year, the rate on either type of account will be prime plus 2.9%, currently 8.8%, as long as the customer keeps a gold card balance of at least $3,000 or a standard card balance above $2,000.

"We are trying to offer the best rates possible to our credit card customer, when they need it the most," said Collin McKenny, senior vice president of Star's card services group. "Basically, all customers have to do is fill out a balance transfer form and we do the rest."

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