Spirits’ Card Fleet Grows, Venmo Ditches Credit Velvet Rope, & Amex Updates Luxe Lounges

Weekly Credit Card News Lowdown

The Balance / Joyce Chan

Snowvid-19 has passed and the power is back on for most of us, so it’s time to share credit card news happenings once again. The latest highlights include the quiet introduction of yet another new Spirit Airlines credit card, Venmo ditching the velvet rope around its credit card application, and some American Express airport lounge updates that’ll have you wistfully daydreaming about travel in no time.

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 offered us a temporary reprieve from winter storms and falling icicles.

What’s the Lowdown?

Here’s what has caught our attention since our last lowdown: 

Spirit Airlines Expands Card Fleet to Give Credit-Builders More Runway

It feels like just yesterday we were sharing details about the refreshed Spirit Airlines-branded credit cards, and now there’s another. The newest card, the Free Spirit Points Mastercard, was quietly announced Monday by Mercury Financial, a non-bank credit card issuer that helps businesses send targeted cardoffers to consumers who don’t have the strong credit profiles that rewards cards often require.

The newest Spirit-branded credit card is an invitation-only product for people with “near prime” credit profiles. Near prime consumers have an OK credit score (620-659) but aren’t considered a lower-risk, prime borrower just yet. A Mercury Financial spokesperson said in an email that the firm considers more than just credit scores when extending application invitations for its cards. It sees this Spirit card as an opportunity to offer credit to Spirit Airlines fans who may not qualify for the other Free Spirit cards. 

Invitations are only being sent to members of the Spirit Airlines frequent flyer program (Free Spirit), so if you’d like an invite and aren’t yet a member of Free Spirit, Mercury Financial recommends joining.

This new offer is unusual—most airline-branded rewards cards recommend applicants have at least good credit, and application processes don’t require invites. Still, aside from its gated application and cardholder demographics, the Free Spirit Points Mastercard doesn’t appear to be all that different from the Free Spirit Travel World Mastercard unveiled in January. 

Both cards are annual fee-free, offer a 10,000-point bonus to new cardholders who meet a spending requirement, award 2 points per $1 spent with Spirit, and include some nice airline perks such as early boarding and statement credits for in-flight purchases. Unfortunately, terms for the new Free Spirit Points card aren’t available publicly, so we aren’t sure how it compares on other details like APR or fees. 

Venmo Ditches Velvet Rope Around Credit Card Application

Speaking of invites and open credit card applications, if you’ve been eyeing the unusual rewards card Venmo debuted last fall but haven’t received a notice saying you can apply, consider this your informal invitation. All Venmo users can now apply for the credit card from within the payment app, no special invitation required. If your application is approved, you’ll get a virtual card to make purchases right away while you wait for the physical card to come in the mail. 

As a refresher, the Venmo Credit Card (which is issued by Synchrony Bank) offers personalized rewards based on your spending, which was unheard of in the credit card space until now. You’ll get up to 3% back on your top spending category each month, 2% back on the next highest, and then 1% back on everything else. Unlike cards with rotating rewards or even those that let cardholders choose the top earning category, you don’t have to select or activate anything. It does the work for you, which is nifty. 

Amex Teases New D.C. Centurion Lounge & Swanky West Coast Updates 

Heads-up, luxury travel card holders: There’s going to be a new American Express Centurion lounge on the block. And by block we mean Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C.

American Express has announced plans to expand it’s Centurion Lounge network with an 11,500-square foot space in the nation’s capital by the end of 2022. The new lounge will include amenities like a complimentary custom drink bar, restroom and shower suites, noise-buffering work areas, and speedy Wi-Fi.

You get complimentary Amex Centurion Lounge access if you have one of these premium (read: high annual fee) American Express travel cards:  The Platinum Card, Business Platinum Card, Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card, Delta SkyMiles Reserve Business Card, or the Centurion Corporate Card. 

Amex is also revamping its lounges at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO). The SEA lounge will triple in size to accommodate additional restrooms, noise-buffering work areas, and private phone call rooms. The SFO lounge will nearly double in size and offer a seasonal, Bay Area-inspired food menu, a second bar and cafe, and more private workspaces. Updates to these Centurion Lounges should also wrap up by the end of 2022, which gives some Amex cardholders something else to look forward to as travel plans resume. 

Report: Credit Card Spending, Debt Definitely Dropped Last Year

While mortgages were snatched up left and right last year, credit card spending and card balances dropped, according to the latest Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit from the New York Federal Reserve. Card spending was up a hair in Q4 of 2020 compared to prior quarters, but credit card debt was still down $108 billion compared to Q4 2019. That’s the largest year-over-year decline recorded by the New York Fed since it started tracking the data in 1999.

The percentage of credit card accounts that are seriously delinquent—more than 90 days behind on their monthly payments—also fell year-over-year (from 5.32% to 4.12%), thanks to the stimulus checks and payment deferrals consumers received to help them through 2020. 

What Else Is Happening?

  • First Bitcoin Rewards Credit Card Waitlist Goes Public: Remember that BlockFi rewards card announced late last year? Well, it’s getting closer to launch day and the waitlist for the Bitcoin rewards card is now open to anyone, not just existing BlockFi customers. BlockFi has also added some more cryptocurrency-related perks to the trendy card, including trading and account renewal bonuses issued in Bitcoin.
  • Petal Cards Have Sprouted Sign-Up Bonuses: The Petal 1 and Petal 2 cards are now offering new cardholders a small sum of cash back (as statement credits) for venturing into the fintech credit card world. Open the Petal 1 Card, which is a credit-building alternative to a traditional secured credit card, and you’ll get $25 back. Open Petal 2, which is an entry-level rewards card, and you’ll get $50 back. It’s nice that neither bonus comes with a spending requirement, but compared to others on the market, they are tiny offers. 
  • Amex Tacks Statement Credit onto Marriott Biz Card Offer: New Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express cardholders can now earn up to $150 back on purchases made within three months of opening an account. That’s in addition to the 75,000 bonus points you can earn by spending $3,000 within the same time period. Based on our calculation of the average value of a Marriott point, those bonus points are worth about $833. That means the full bonus is worth $983, which makes it a competitive business travel rewards card offer.  
  • Chase Ink Cards Now Play Nice With Mobile Wallets: If you have a Chase business card (Ink Business Unlimited, Ink Business Cash, or Ink Business Preferred), you can now add it to your smartphone wallet, including Google Pay and Apple Pay. Consumer and business debit cards from Chase have been compatible with mobile wallets for a while, but business credit cards were left out—until now. While the Chase website doesn’t detail this update, Chase confirmed reports of the change with The Balance via email on Wednesday. 
  • Blue Cash Preferred Annual Fee Waived for New Cardholders’ First Year: American Express has sweetened its Blue Cash Preferred Card offer, starting with the annual fee. If you apply for this card now, you won’t have to pay the $95 annual fee for the first year. Amex also upped the welcome offer of this card: New cardholders who spend $3,000 within three months will now earn a $300 statement credit, which makes this a great time to snag this top-notch grocery rewards card if you haven’t already.