Banc One Corp.'s TravelPlus Visa has been named the official card of a leading travel association that is seeking to recapture lost commissions for its agents.
American Society of Travel Agents, which has more than 25,000 members, said it wants to compete with the popular cobranded credit cards that have hurt commissions in recent years.
"Travel agents have been cut out of travel business by airlines that have put more restrictions on how customers can purchase tickets," said Mark K. Tonnesen, president of the Banc One Credit Card Services Co., Columbus, Ohio.
Consumers using these cards have been able to redeem their free travel points through an 800 number, "leaving the travel agent out of a nearly $20 billion segment of the business," said Jeanne Epping, president of the association, which is based in Greenbriar, W.Va.
"There has never been a card program through which customers were able to book frequent-flier points in a way that was commissionable to the travel agent," said Nancy Gravatt, a spokeswoman for the association.
This is important now more than ever because airlines have been cutting back on the commissions they give agents for booking flights.
"The TravelPlus agreement means that ASTA agents will have the opportunity to sell this product and create closer bonds with customers" while earning a higher commission on ticket sales, Mr. Tonnesen added.
It remains to be seen whether the association's primary value to Banc One will be in boosting sales or enhancing visibility.
"It will enable Banc One to reach a lot of customers who don't travel frequently, because the card can be used to purchase items such as groceries and gasoline, which all goes towards travel miles," said Tammi Scheetz, research director for Inside Flyer, a magazine in Colorado Springs.
The TravelPlus Visa was introduced just before Banc One's contract with former partner Northwest Airlines ended in February 1994. Annual fees are $25 for the standard card and $55 for the gold card, both carrying a prime plus 9.75% interest rate.
TravelPlus allows customers to earn points by using Banc One Visa cards. After $12,000 of purchases, a consumer is entitled to a free ticket, valued up to $350, on any domestic airline within a consumer's zone. And $20,000 of purchases earns a ticket worth $500 in any zone, including international destinations.
The TravelPlus program has been criticized for limiting the ticket redemption value and requiring cardholders to make up the difference. Banc One maintains that consumers are willing to accept this in exchange for elimination of blackout dates, a key component of the TravelPlus package.
Although Mr. Tonnesen predicted that the addition of the travel agents group would make the TravelPlus Visa "a major force" in both frequent flier and travel-related businesses, Ms. Scheetz said its primary value would be to occasional users such as tourists.
Bank One expects to sign additional travel partners - including cruise lines, hotels, car rental companies, and tour operators - later this year.