A $1.3 billion thrift is trying to interest other financial institutions in its version of a travel rewards card.
For three years First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Charleston, S.C., has offered a Visa card with loyalty points that cardholders can use with a single travel agency. The program, TravelFree, differs from frequent-flier programs in that there are no blackout dates and travelers can choose among any airline or applicable service.
Now the thrift is trying to sell the program, saying other users can customize it to fit their needs.
"We felt there were definite weaknesses to the traditional travel- oriented card programs," said R. Bruce Copeland, vice president of marketing at First Federal. "Flexibility was one of them."
First Federal is working with RewardsNow, an incentive consulting firm in Barrington, N.H., which is marketing the program and its software to institutions outside First Federal's region. RewardsNow will also manage the accounts of any institution that chooses to outsource them, the companies said.
Nobody has signed up for the service yet. But with the national credit card landscape dominated by a few national issuers, First Federal hopes to stake out at least a small claim.
Internally, the thrift also hopes to get cross-selling benefits. Cardholders can earn extra points by linking checking or savings accounts to the travel rewards plan.
First Federal's card has a 16.92% annual interest rate and costs $12.50 a year. Cardholders earn one point for every dollar they spend. Ten thousand points translates into a $100 gift certificate at Colpitts World Travel in Dedham, Mass.
The companies declined to say how much they will charge other banks for the program rights or which banks are considering the program.
Russ Schoper, president of Business Developments International in Alpharetta, Ga., said it was unusual for a community-oriented financial institution to embark on its own rewards program. He said there was "nothing groundbreaking" about the card, which he characterized as "another angle of the frequent-flier programs."
Mr. Schoper doubted larger banks would be interested. But the program "makes a lot of sense for a small community bank," he said. "It gives them something to compete with from the large issuers."