Barclays PLC's U.S. card division has developed a cobranded reward card for Virgin America that, unlike most airline-cobranded cards, carries no annual fee.
The division, Barclaycard US in Wilmington, Del., announced the cobranding pact Wednesday. Richard Branson's Virgin Group PLC owns a minority stake in Virgin America, which is based in San Francisco.
In June, Virgin Group's Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. announced that it had signed a cobranded card deal with Bank of America Corp. Those cards run on the American Express Co. network and carry a fee of $49 to $90, depending on the rewards offered.
The Virgin America cards will run on the Visa Inc. network and are a variant of the Visa Signature card for affluent consumers. Barclays said the cards would be available Oct. 23, though consumers can preregister for them now.
On Monday, B of A disclosed that it had sold its remaining US Airways Group Inc. cobranded credit card accounts. The cobranding relationship had been the subject of a protracted battle between B of A and Barclays, which won the contract after US Airways merged with America West Airlines in 2005.
(B of A sued for breach of contract and settled, winning the right to issue the cards through March of next year.)
Joe Price, B of A's chief financial officer, said on a conference call Monday that the Charlotte company sold the accounts "for a gain of approximately $280 million."
He did not disclose the buyer, and neither B of A nor Barclays would discuss the matter Wednesday.
Barclays has been pursuing cobranding deals with airlines, despite the industry's recent dismal performance.
"Historically, airline programs have been the jewel in the crown of cobrand programs," Chris Theoharides, the president of the Massapequa, N.Y., card advisory firm Advantage Consulting Group Inc., said Wednesday.
However, "given the situation of the airline industry, it's a lot more risky right now," Mr. Theoharides said.
"Everybody wants airline programs," but in each case, "the question is, will this airline stay afloat or not." Many issuers are experimenting with no-fee cards, he said, but "most of them are leading with a fee-based card."
The rewards for no-fee airline cobranded cards are usually less rich than those carrying a fee, Mr. Theoharides said. "A no-fee card may have scaled down rewards. … The absence of the annual fee offers a benefit that in many cases is not as strong."