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Choosing an Airline – By Credit Card Offers…

For about 3 decades Northwest Airlines has been my airline of choice. Last year they agreed to be acquired by Delta. OK. 3 weeks ago I received a letter in the mail from US Bank stating that they were immediately ending their Visa Signature Card alliance with Northwest. Now things are impacting me. In reality Delta kind of ended it for them by choosing to partner exclusively with American Express, but they weren’t going to end the contract until August. US Bank choose to pitch a hissy fit and ended things earlier. Well, until Northwest filed suit and forced US Bank to continue the program for a bit longer.

In any case, it’s interesting to me that my own choice of preferred airline going forward, whether I continue with Delta/Northwest or switch to someone else, isn’t really a choice between the airlines themselves, but which credit card partner of theirs I prefer. In choosing between Delta, United, Continental, and American I’m actually deciding based on American Express (Delta), Chase (United), Citi (American) or Chase (Continental). What’s most interesting is that the airlines themselves are driving me to do this. Rather than each airline selling frequent flyer and elite qualifying miles to several credit card companies and letting them duke it out, they’re placing their future in the hands of a single card issuer.

In this particular case Delta may very well loose my (and others?) business because of Amex. ‘And they don’t take American Express’ is more than just a commercial, it’s true. I can’t charge nearly as much on an Amex card, and thus receive as much frequent flyer benefit, as on the Visa or Mastercard offerings of other airlines. For many people Amex is a good card, for my spending habits it doesn’t appear that it would be. Stories are also swirling on discussion forums that Amex is severely limiting credit lines of former Northwest flyers switching over from the Visa Signature to an Amex.

This isn’t a rant against any airline or card issuer, just something that I found rather fascinating. I wonder how many others choose an airline primarily based on their preferred card issuer rather than on how well the airline provides their own service?

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