Every industry has its gadflies, and credit cards has Peter W. Flur.
For more than two years, Mr. Flur has maintained an Internet site with information about credit card offers. People e-mail him to describe new reward programs or to complain about rising fees, and he dutifully posts the comments for all to see.
Mr. Flur's interest is purely sporting. He has no tie to the banking industry and works by day as an engineer at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The 34-year-old resident of Smyrna, Ga., describes himself as zealously interested in the perks that card companies offer. His Web activity, he says, is both an absorbing hobby and a quasi-public service.
Some bankers say they are aware of the site, www.flur.com, but it is not regarded as possessing the same authority as card-comparison sites maintained by RAM Research Inc., Bank Rate Monitor, and GetSmart. On the other hand, it is seen as a more positive force than the rabble-rousing chat boards that crop up in pockets of the Internet. Some Web sites carry uncensored screeds about card companies, and venomous attacks on specific issuers can be found on the Net.
Mr. Flur said he strives for fairness. He checks mail solicitations and companies' customer service lines to make sure the card terms, company names, and e-mail addresses he lists are accurate.
When people submit electronic gripes, he edits out some potentially inflammatory comments. "I moderate it so that it stays on target, as opposed to some of the Web boards where you can basically get away with anything," Mr. Flur said.
As a cardholder who meticulously tracks his accounts with Quicken software, Mr. Flur calls credit cards "a great deal" for people like himself who do not revolve balances. He views reward programs as "free money."
"It's basically a 30- to 60-day loan, interest free, and it gives me a reward back," he said. "If I went and paid cash, I'd have to dish it out of my checking account today."
As a professional Web site designer and self-described computer geek, he said it was a natural enough step to put a credit cards section on www.flur.com alongside his family tree and pictures of his parakeet, Donald.
The idea came up in 1996, when GE Capital raised Mr. Flur's dander by slapping a $25 annual fee on what had been a free card.
"I said, 'There's got to be a better deal out there,'" Mr. Flur recalled. He began searching on-line but found little helpful information. "From there, I basically said I could do this myself."
The site includes a graph plotting the relative values of various rewards programs, along with a listing of frequent-flier programs. The latter was included with some reluctance, as Mr. Flur thinks airline mileage programs are a rip-off.
"My biggest complaint is that they charge you annual fees," he said of airline cards. "If I earn 100,000 points on Delta, TWA, United, or whatever-now I have to fight for the three vacant seats on the two flights a year that are actually available."
With cash rebate cards, he said, the consumer is in control. "I can do anything with cash, but I can't do anything with airline points."
He gets into talking about card programs the way some people do about sports teams or favorite restaurants.
"I was really into the Discover card and eventually the Private Issue card and the GE Rewards card," he said. "The big one that has me excited now is this cash-in Visa rewards program from First USA, which again is 2% cash back uncapped."
Mr. Flur said his site's volume of up to 500 hits an hour "shocks me." Though he said he does not seek publicity for his site, he did get some when a reporter for the Orange County Register found it and mentioned him in a story about rewards cards, which was picked up by a news service.
Now more than two dozen people communicate with Mr. Flur by e-mail per week, alerting him to new offers or reporting changes in existing programs.
Strangers, old college buddies, and even Mr. Flur's father have written him e-mail. One anonymous fan of his Web site sent news of a cash-back rewards program "the first day the offer" was made.
Whenever something like that is posted, "suddenly I get 15 messages saying, 'How do I get this card?'"
Perhaps the most popular section is called "grapevine," a running log of comments, ideas, problems, and observations from Mr. Flur and his correspondents. Some people reminisce about great card offers of yore, others warn about fee changes and other practices-often submitting lengthy sagas detailing the history of their card's interest rate.
Seldom does Mr. Flur hear from bankers themselves, but he was recently contacted by a customer service representative "from one of the companies that had been slammed."
Several companies maintain Web sites with compilations of card offers- Mr. Flur keeps links to them on his site-but none maintains a chatboard or has the open-forum ambience of the grapevine section.
Mr. Flur, whose enthusiasms include photography and Shakespeare, got his first credit card in college during a summer job at International Business Machines Corp. It was a Visa card, he recalled, from the IBM credit union.
The 1990 introduction of the AT&T Universal Card changed him. "Suddenly it got to be, 'What kind of goodies can you offer?'"
Soon Mr. Flur hit on Discover Private Issue, a card that paid him 2% cash back (which has since been scaled back). Though Mr. Flur asked that his annual card spending not be printed, it is sufficient to make him a valued customer of any issuer.
Today he relies primarily on two cards-from Discover and GE Capital-with several others (including Universal) as backups. Using a complex system that he said frustrates his wife, he calculates his available credit on the various cards when deciding which one to use.
"I have not personally tried the American Express card yet, but that's one that everyone has been urging me to try because it is a good deal," he said. In August, American Express introduced a cash-rebate card similar to that of Discover.
Mr. Flur said it takes him no more than an hour a week to maintain the Web site.
"I get the whole spectrum" of comments, he said. "I'll get one from someone who's completely livid over something really silly and then the next guy says, 'Wow, I'm getting cash back now, and I didn't know I could do this until I read your site.'"