After some low-key weeks, it seems the credit card industry has woken up and is pumping out updates as fast as the new president can sign executive orders. Okay, maybe not that fast, but this week was full of noteworthy tidbits, including a big data dive into balance transfer deals, news about a new Spirit Airline rewards card, and the skinny on Sam’s Club Mastercard updates.
This weekly credit card news roundup contains what you should know about the cards in your wallet, other available offers, and new product announcements or reports that made us briefly look away from the GameStop ticker.
What’s the Lowdown?
Here’s what caught our attention between Jan. 22 and Jan. 28, 2021:
What’s the Deal With Balance Transfer Offers?
The new year usually brings a bevy of debt repayment advertisements, including credit card balance transfer promotions. This year? Not so much. We dove deep into our 300+ card database and sifted the balance transfer promotion details to find out what cardholders can actually get right now.
We found fewer balance transfer deals available right now compared to last year, along with three things that consumers can still count on: 0% APR balance transfer offers typically last for more than one year, fees are hard to avoid, and the best deals will require top-notch credit.
To learn more about these promotional offers, including the best ones available now—plus lots of charts—check out “Balance Transfer Survey: Long Deals Have Dwindled But Fees, High Credit Standards Remain.”
Spirit Airlines Clears No-Annual-Fee Card for Takeoff
Even though many people are still staying close to the ground, Spirit Airlines has propelled its revamped frequent flyer program forward, which includes a couple of new credit card offers: One brand new no-annual-fee card, and the refueled card we caught wind of back in December.
The new card, the Free Spirit Travel World Mastercard, is a lot like other low-cost airline rewards cards. It offers double points on airline purchases, a little bonus for new cardholders, and some travel niceties like early boarding. The other Spirit Airlines card—Free Spirit Travel More World Elite Mastercard—is a new and much improved version of the Spirit Airlines World Mastercard.
For a side-by-side comparison of the two new airline card offers, see “Spirit Airlines Launches New No-Annual-Fee Credit Card and Revamps Another.”
Sam’s Club Mastercard Elevates Earning Potential for Top Members
It now pays to be a top-tier Sam’s Club member with a club-branded Mastercard. The warehouse retailer and Synchrony Bank announced Wednesday that Sam’s Club Plus members will earn an extra 2% back on club purchases, essentially pumping the top rewards-earning rate up to 5% cash back. The Sam’s Club Mastercard is still touting its standout gas rewards category, too, so between that and the new card changes, it’s a solid rewards card for shoppers who frequent the big-box’s wide aisles.
In addition to the Mastercard rewards program changes, Sam’s Club is now issuing rewards digitally, so members won’t have to fuss with paper checks anymore.
U.S. Bank Unleashes a Barrage of Card Term Changes
We closely track the offer terms of all 300+ credit cards in our database and most days, there’s a small tweak here or there. However, this week U.S. Bank surprised us by changing some of the costs tied to several of its consumer and business cards (increasing them, mostly). The changes included raising cash advance interest rates and fees, and aligning maximum returned payment fees with the current $40 federal limit.
These are the most notable changes we recorded that will apply to new cardholders:
- Six cards now have higher purchase APRs—U.S. Bank Business Leverage Visa Signature Card, U.S. Bank Business Cash Rewards World Elite Mastercard, U.S. Bank Visa Platinum, U.S. Bank Business Platinum Card, U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card, and the U.S. Bank Secured Visa Card.
- The U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card now charges a foreign transaction fee.
- The U.S. Bank Secured Visa Card no longer charges an annual fee.
We’re still exploring the “why” behind this array of updates (U.S. Bank didn’t offer any insight before this piece was published), but we’ll let you know if any of these updates become a larger trend within the card industry.
What Else Is Happening?
- Amex Introduces Handy Statement Credit Tracker Tool: If you have the American Express Gold Card, check your online account in the “Benefits” section for a new tool American Express introduced to help cardholders keep track of their statement credit-earning progress, as flagged by a Doctor of Credit post. We found Platinum cardholders may have a similar tool on their account homepage, too. Given all the oddball purchases that can earn statement credits these days, a feature like this could save you time and help you make sure you get money back in your pocket for using your credit card.
- Hilton Card Bonuses Get a Room Upgrade: The Hilton Honors Amex is now offering new cardholders a $100 statement credit after making their first card purchase, plus 100,000 bonus points for those who spend just $1,000 within three months of opening an account. The new Hilton Surpass card offer is similar: New cardholders will get a $150 statement credit after making their first purchase and 150,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 within three months. We estimate the bonus points are worth $450 and $675, respectively. Add in the statement credits, and those are pretty swell deals for Hilton fans dreaming of a post-pandemic getaway.
- Chase Adds Grocery Credit to Sapphire Preferred Offer: New Chase Sapphire Preferred cardholders can get some money back for all those snacks that pair so well with binge-watching Netflix. On top of the 60,000-point bonus for new cardholders who spend $4,000 within three months, you can also earn up to $50 back in statement credits on grocery purchases.