Stratus Rewards, a division of Stratus Media Group, is planning to introduce an elite credit card in Europe this summer that will be available only by invitation and will cater to wealthy consumers.
Stratus Rewards in Santa Barbara, Calif., has pursued a similar strategy in the United States with mixed results. It introduced a card, issued by U.S. Bancorp, in 2004 but ended the partnership and stopped issuing the cards in 2006. Representatives of U.S. Bank and Stratus Rewards would give no details on why the partnership ended.
The new Stratus Rewards Visa White Card is to be issued by an unnamed European bank.
When it was introduced, the U.S. card was available through an affiliation with a Stratus Rewards partner or by nomination by another member. Annual membership fees were $1,500 for primary cardholders and $500 for secondary cardholders.
"I'm not surprised the card didn't take off in the U.S. The amount of people the card is geared toward is relatively small, and not everyone within that market is willing to pay for that," said Ron Shevlin, a senior analyst at the Boston research company Aite Group LLC. "It just doesn't resonate as a useful product."
Visa Inc. disagrees. Executives at the San Francisco payments company said that the top end of the consumer market is doing well despite the turbulent economy; it recently began offering the Visa Signature Luxury Hotel Collection for the brand's wealthiest cardholders.
Stratus Rewards said it believes Europe is the right place to market this type of product. "This market is underserved, and we want to create a community that rewards Stratus' members and partners by offering the highest level of service," said Brent Kimball, a Stratus Rewards vice president. Stratus partners include the Marco Polo Club of Abercrombie & Kent U.S.A. LLC, Marquis Jet Partners, Vivre online shopping boutique and Zino Platinum Cigars.
Potential Visa White cardholders include celebrities, business tycoons and the old-money elite. If accepted, they can earn points for automatic benefits such as an always-available concierge service, time on private jets and tour packages. Stratus is still completing the point-to-spend details, annual fees and a decision on the category of the product (whether it will be a charge card or a revolving-credit card), Kimball said.
Megan Bramlette, a managing associate of the Westbury, N.Y., market research company Auriemma Consulting Group, said she agrees that such a rewards card could succeed in Europe.
"If you look at global cards in the last six to 12 months, most are geared to the high-end market, not the mass market," she said. Moreover, Stratus Rewards "can make a lot of money off the super affluent because those consumers use their cards so often."
Bramlette also said that, because Europe "isn't a very rewards-rich market, there is a cachet attached to a card that involves an invite-only aspect."