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Temperatures are rising, masks are coming off, and American Airlines and JetBlue are giving frequent flyer members more ways to earn rewards on flights booked with either airline. The credit card industry also brought us sunny news of dwindling card balances, a critter-focused Mastercard program, and more.
This credit card news roundup contains what you should know about the cards in your wallet. You’ll also learn about new product releases, offers, and reports that haven’t gotten as much nostalgic hype as the “Friends” reunion but are still worth clapping your hands for.
What’s the Lowdown?
Here’s what has caught our attention since May 20, 2021.
JetBlue and American Airlines Team Up To Offer More Ways To Earn Miles
As of Wednesday, American Airline AAdvantage members and JetBlue TrueBlue members can earn frequent flyer rewards by traveling with either airline. The airlines announced an expanded partnership this week, giving travelers more options when it comes to choosing flights and earning rewards.
The two airlines teamed up last summer to offer new routes and ways to earn rewards with either airline on some code-share flights. Now, when a JetBlue TrueBlue member books a flight on the American Airlines website, they can enter their TrueBlue frequent flyer number to earn rewards on any American Airlines Flight, just as if they were booking a JetBlue flight. The same goes for American Airlines AAdvantage members booking JetBlue flights. Any rewards you earn this way will also count toward elite status requirements with the respective airline program.
JetBlue also teased that TrueBlue points and American Airlines AAdvantage miles can soon be redeemed with either provider. If that happens, American and JetBlue rewards cardholders will have more flexibility when it comes time to book an award flight. We’ll watch for details and let you know how that flexibility will impact the value of your travel rewards.
Consumers Really Made a Dent in Their Credit Card Debt Last Year
While we’re adjusting to showing our full faces in public again, TransUnion unmasked the latest average credit card debt balance in its first consumer credit report of 2021. The average credit card balance was $4,791 in the first quarter. That’s more than $800 under the early-pandemic average and the lowest level recorded by the credit bureau since it started tracking that data point back in 2009.
The low average is a positive side effect of federal relief programs, such as stimulus checks, that put more funds in consumer wallets last year. That trend surfaced in the New York Fed’s household debt and credit report earlier this month, too.
The TransUnion credit report also noted that the credit card serious delinquency rate—which indicates the percentage of accounts that are at least 90 days past due—has dropped to 1.25%, down from 1.97% in the first quarter of 2020.
Critter-Focused Mastercard Program Supports Wildlife Preservation
It’s not every day a credit card news release pulls at our heartstrings, but a Friday announcement from Mastercard did just that. The card network has partnered with Conservation International for its new Wildlife Impact Card program. It’s meant to spread awareness of critically endangered species and their shrinking habitats.
The program is kicking off with prepaid Mastercard debit cards featuring pictures of African forest elephants, black-and-white ruffed lemurs, and Sunda pangolins. Each card will feature an expiration date based on when the endangered species may go extinct without further protection. For every prepaid Wildlife Impact Card purchased, Mastercard will donate $1 to Conservation International to help protect and restore high-risk animal habitats.
The first round of prepaid cards is available now as virtual cards that can be added to a mobile wallet. Physical cards made out of 100% recycled materials will be available later this year. This program is part of Mastercard’s broader focus on sustainability, which includes the carbon calculator it debuted in April to help cardholders understand the environmental impact of their purchases.
What Else Is Happening?
- Chase Refuels Southwest Airlines Card Bonuses: The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority, Plus, and Premier cards are all offering bigger bonuses to new cardholders who open accounts before July 14. New cardholders who spend $2,000 within three months of opening their accounts will earn 65,000 Rapid Rewards points, worth about $975, based on our average point value calculations. That’s a nice boost from the old 40,000-point offers, especially for the $69-per-year Plus card.
- Upcoming Bitcoin Rewards Card Drops Annual Fee: BlockFi announced more changes to its upcoming Bitcoin rewards credit card on Monday. When it launches, the BlockFi Rewards Visa Signature Card will no longer charge a $200 annual fee. And new cardholders can get 3.5% back in Bitcoin on purchases made within the first 90 days of opening their account. Big spenders (AKA those who spend more than $50,000 on the card each year) can also earn 2% back in Bitcoin on each purchase instead of the 1.5% base rate. Considering the extra costs that come with diving into the cryptocurrency world, such as exchange fees, these are valuable updates to the unusual rewards card.
- PenFed Credit Union Teases Dream Vacation Sweepstakes: Summer is just around the corner, and Pentagon Federal Credit Union has jumped on the “back-to-travel” marketing bandwagon. Consumers who open the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards travel card or fill out an online entry form before Sept. 30 will be entered into a sweepstake to win $10,000. The prize will be issued as a check, and while it’s intended for a lavish vacation, there’s nothing in the fine print that requires the funds to be used that way. May the odds be ever in your favor.