With little fanfare, Star Bank has quietly made air miles available to its business cardholders since June.
Cincinnati-based Star Bank, with its 10,000 business card accounts, is dwarfed by American Express' six million and First Bank Systems Inc.'s 700,000.
Minneapolis-based First Bank grabbed headlines in August by introducing a new business credit card that rewards cardholders with frequent-flier miles on Northwest Airlines. Because the business card market is relatively new to the banking community, distinctive programs like Star Bank's turn heads.
Instead of developing a separate card product, Star Bank has been offering frequent-flier miles to its business cardholders as a perk on their existing accounts.
For a $25 membership fee all Star Bank customers are eligible to enroll in the bank's frequent-flier program, TravelAccount, which was launched in November 1993.
Collin McKenny, senior vice president of Star Bank's card services group, explained that between November and June the bank concentrated on incorporating TravelAccount into the complex business card reporting system.
Initially, the $8 billion-asset bank targeted large and small companies that already issue its business cards, but only 250 of its 10,000 accounts now subscribe to TravelAccount.
Ms. McKenny expects to pick up more accounts in the coming months as an aggressive marketing campaign to attract new businesses gets under way.
TravelAccount is different from most frequent-flier programs because it allows cardholders to redeem points for tickets on any airline. Another Cincinnati-based bank, Banc One Corp. introduced a similar program in January called TravelPlus.
TravelPlus and TravelAccount were designed by CUC International Inc., a credit card enhancement firm in Stamford, Conn., which purchases the airline ticket once the customer has accumulated a certain amount of points. ,
TravelAccount customers start out with 1,000 free points and must earn a minimum of 25,000 points before they receive an airline ticket. Star Bank awards one point for each dollar spent using its Visa or Mastercard, up to 5,000 points a month.
Cardholders can use their cards for travel, buying office supplies, and as a line of credit for the company's vendors. "We will structure the card any way our client wants to use it," said Ms. McKenny.
The business card carries a $35 annual fee and a 13.75% interest rate, compared with First Bank's $75 annual fee and 17.5% interest rate. On the downside, however, TravelAccount customers are restricted to tickets that cost $500 or less and they must book their trips 14 days in advance and include a Saturday night stay.