American Express Co. has introduced a frequent flier card for small businesses in Canada.
The company says its Air Miles Gold Business card is the first points- based loyalty card for Canadian entrepreneurs. It is available only in that country.
The product is a commercial counterpart to the consumer Air Miles card that Amex Canada Inc., the New York company's Toronto subsidiary, introduced 18 months ago as part of a market-share push in the country.
Air Miles for consumers, a revolving credit card that lets cardmembers accumulate points toward free travel and other rewards, is the most successful card that the company has introduced in Canada, said David Barnes, a spokesman for Amex Canada.
By offering only a charge card, American Express was "appealing to a narrow section of the marketplace," Mr. Barnes said. "We realized we had to broaden to reach more people."
In four years, the number of American Express cards in circulation in Canada has risen by 800,000, to 1.8 million, Mr. Barnes said.
A survey of 300 small businesses, commissioned by American Express, showed that Canadian entrepreneurs like the concept of a card with loyalty points. The cobranded card is issued by Amex Bank of Canada in partnership with Loyalty Group, a Toronto-based rewards company.
American Express and Bank of Montreal have marketing agreements with Loyalty Group's Air Miles for Business program. They and other card issuers are sharpening their focus on Canada's two million to three million small businesses.
"Small business is the highest growth area in Canada right now," said Wendy Li, marketing manager at Bank of Montreal. "Two to three years ago there weren't any card products designed for small businesses here. Now most banks have something."
Debra L. Ambrose, director of product development at Amex Canada, said more and more entrepreneurs "are using credit cards in place of traditional loans to finance their companies, and many business purchases are made on personal cards in order to accumulate points."
More than half the small-business owners surveyed said they worked at least 60 hours a week. A third said they had no leisure time at all; others said their leisure time was spent with clients on golf courses or at ball games.
The Air Miles Gold Business card is meant to take these busy schedules into account. Rewards include air travel, weekend getaways, long-distance phone calls, and movie, theater, and baseball tickets.
Each $20 (Canadian) spent earns one air mile. Twenty-five air miles buys two movie passes; a free air ticket requires the same number of air miles earned on the card as the distance of the trip.
Several companies have agreed to grant double points for transactions made with the cards, including United Parcel Service, AT&T Canada, and Holiday Inns.
The business card has no annual fee and a 6.9% introductory interest rate, which jumps to 18.25% after six months. A business owner may sign up for nine additional cards for employees free of charge.
Nipping at the heels of the Amex product, Bank of Montreal has added an air miles feature to its small-business MasterCard. The card comes with a lower interest rate-12.9%-but charges an annual fee of $120 for the primary cardholder and $45 for each additional card.
SAN FRANCISCO-Visa U.S.A. has introduced two platinum cards for the small-business market.
The Visa Business platinum credit card and check card come with complimentary 24-hour concierge service and expanded customer service.
The platinum credit card has a minimum credit line of $5,000. Annual interest rates and fees vary depending on the issuer, Visa said.
Visa has added a legal help line for all small-business cardholders. For a monthly fee, discount legal services available include telephone consultations, one face-to-face meeting, and preparation and review of legal documents.
A toll-free personal computer help desk is now available for an annual fee. Visa declined to name the fees charged for the legal help line or PC help desk.