American Express Cardholders Can Fly Now, Pay Later

...plus other credit card news you may have missed this week

Weekly Credit Card News Lowdown

The financial product information on this page is accurate as of the time of posting; some of the offers mentioned may have expired since that time.

American Express is joining the hot “buy now, pay later” (BNPL) trend by giving cardholders a way to finance their flight purchases for a fixed monthly fee. The credit card industry also brought us news of another U.S. Bank travel rewards card and fresh credit card debt statistics.

This credit card news roundup contains what you should know about the cards in your wallet and new product releases, offers, or reports that are worth staying on top of, much like the rising price of gas. You won’t have to wait in line for this stuff, though.

What’s the Lowdown?

Here’s what has caught our attention since May 7, 2021.

American Express Cardholders Can Now Fly Now, Pay Later

American Express announced Thursday that U.S. consumer cardholders can pay for AmexTravel.com flight purchases using its short-term financing option, “Plan It” The BNPL option will be available for prepaid hotel reservations booked through the issuer’s travel portal later this year, too.

Plan It works a lot like the increasingly popular BNPL installment loan plans, giving cardholders a way to spread out across fixed monthly payments the cost of eligible purchases of at least $100. The fixed monthly fee for Plan It is a fraction of each purchase, and lower than the standard interest rates credit cards typically charge for carrying a balance.

American Express said the new purchasing option was inspired by an Amex Trendex survey that found 36% of consumers (and a mighty 62% of Millennials ) are looking for deals or flexible payment options when booking travel. American Express joins Expedia, Priceline, and Hotels.com,  in giving consumers ways to book a trip now and pay for the adventure later. Even major airlines like United and Southwest have jumped on the bandwagon by partnering with Uplift, a BNPL service for travel providers.

U.S. Bank Launches Another Altitude Travel Rewards Card

Speaking of travel…credit card issuers are still giving travel-hungry consumers more ways to earn rewards. U.S. Bank is the latest issuer to gas up that trend by adding another card to its Altitude rewards card suite on Monday: the U.S. Bank Altitude Connect Visa Signature card.

The $95-per-year card fills a gap between the existing no-annual-fee Altitude Go Visa Signature Card, and the pricier $400 Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card. The Connect card offers a jam-packed rewards scheme that stands out among similar travel rewards card, too:

  • 5 points per $1 spent on pre-paid hotels and rental cars booked through the U.S. Bank Altitude Rewards Center
  • 4 points per $1 spent on other travel and gas station purchases
  • 2 points per $1 spent on groceries (in stores and delivery), dining (including takeout and delivery), and eligible streaming services
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases

The new card is a strong competitor for other mid-tier travel rewards cards, namely the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. The Altitude Connect card offers more rewards per dollar spent on travel and gas than the Sapphire Preferred card, and statement credits on streaming service purchases and TSA or Global Entry application fees that the Chase card does not.

The U.S. Bank Altitude Connect card charges new cardholders no annual fee for the first year, and offers a 50,000-point bonus to those who spend $3,000 within three months of opening a new account. The bonus is worth $500, whether it’s used to book travel through the Altitude Rewards Center or redeemed for cash back.

Households Are Taking On More Debt, But Not With Credit Cards

Americans are adding more to their debt burdens these days, but are still keen on paying off their credit cards, according to a report Wednesday from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

While mortgage, auto, and student loan debt balances all rose in the first quarter of 2021, credit card balances fell. At the end of March, card balances were $157 billion lower than they were at the end of 2019, which the New York Fed attributes to debt repayment and fewer spending opportunities during the pandemic. Credit card balances accounted for $770 billion of the $14.64 trillion household debt balance.

The New York Fed also reported that while credit card debt declined last year for consumers of all ages, that trend isn’t consistent across age groups in 2021. Declines in balances for borrowers in their 20s have slowed this year, while borrowers over the age of 60  have paid down their balances at a greater rate than they did last spring. The Fed said it thinks this is because younger cardholders may be getting out and about more these days, while older cardholders remain cautious.

Survey Finds College Student Credit Card Use Is Rising

Coincidentally, a separate report that came out this week indicates more college students are using credit cards and carrying card debt these days.

Almost half of all students (48%) have a credit card right now, up from 40% one year ago, according to a joint survey of more than 20,000 college students by AIG Retirement Services and EVERFI, an education software tech company. It’s now more common for college students to have two or more credit cards in their wallet, too.

The survey, which was done to get a read on how college students feel about their financial literacy and wellbeing, also revealed some more concerning statistics. For example, two out of every five students don’t pay off their card balances each month (38%), which means they’re racking up interest costs. The survey also found 40% of college students are carrying more than $1,000 of credit card debt, and 14% have more than $5,000.

If you’re a college student juggling credit card balances, there are several ways you can tackle the situation. Check out The Balance Money Kit: Eliminating Credit Card Debt for a step-by-step guide to getting rid of your card balances and preserving your credit score.

What Else Is Happening?

  • Amex Dials Back Marriott Card Welcome Offers: The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant and Marriott Bonvoy Business rewards cards from American Express no longer tout six-figure welcome offers for new cardholders. Starting Thursday, if you’re approved for either card, you can now earn 75,000 bonus points if you spend $3,000 within three months. Those extra rewards are worth about $788 when used for hotel stays, based on The Balance’s average point valuations. Both cards are also offering new cardholders some statement credits on eligible purchases made within six months, which helps sweeten the new deal.
  • Small Biz Brex Card Adds Cryptocurrency Rewards Option: Brex, a company offering alternative online financing options for small businesses, announced Wednesday that rewards points earned with a Brex-branded corporate Mastercard can now be redeemed for Bitcoin and Ethereum. Brex credit card reward points (which are earned on travel, rideshare, dining, and software purchases) can still be redeemed in old-school ways, too, such as statement credits and travel.
  • Chase Expands DoorDash Perks to Co-Branded Cards: If you have a Chase credit card branded by a travel or retail rewards program including United Airlines, Southwest, or Starbucks, you can now activate a complimentary one-year DoorDash DashPass membership, according to a Monday press release. DashPass membership perks include $0 delivery fees, and 5% back in DoorDash credit on pickup orders, which could save you some coin if you order in often. To see if your Chase card qualifies or to activate the offer, visit the DoorDash website before the year ends.
  • Apple Shares More About Apple Card Family Feature Functions: The tech giant has posted more details about how Apple Card co-owners can manage the upcoming Apple Card Family feature on a support webpage. The new feature will let card owners set spending limits, view account activity, and lock or unlock participant spending abilities. Participants can spend against a credit limit and earn rewards, much like typical credit card authorized users. However, only participants who are at least 18 years old can opt-in to credit reporting to build their credit score.