The Charge Is On: Amex, Visa, MasterCard In Full Throttle

'Tis the season to charge it, and credit card marketing is in full throttle.

American Express is offering some of its cardholders a members-only lounge at a swanky mall. Visa USA is giving away 10 prizes of $100,000 each.* MasterCard will encourage card usage with a contest that awards two winners the home of their dreams.

While total holiday season spending is expected to rise 5 percent to $457.4 billion with the typical consumer spending $791, the common thrust of the charge card companies is to encourage repeat card usage through value-added incentives such as points, rewards, special offers, and contests. The three top credit card marketers--Visa USA, MasterCard and American Express--enter this holiday season strengthened by unsurpassed financial performance, but also face some consumer uncertainty over declining real estate values and fuel prices.

For the first time, American Express has opened an experimental members-only lounge at The Mall at Short Hills in New Jersey where shoppers can literally recharge. Those without Amex cards can apply on-site and earn instant access to member benefits served in the lounge such as bottled water, snacks, email stations and outlets to recharge iPods and cell phones.



Amex also is running a PR blitz for its new downloadable gift receipt to include with gifts purchased on an Amex card, so recipients are aware they have the same loss and damage protection as the cardholder.

Amex views its gift guarantee as a valuable reason to make a purchase with its card rather than using a bank debit card or cash. There is no advertising to support either program. Amex also offers cardholders the opportunity to triple their rewards points by shopping online at its bonus points mall, which features Ann Taylor, Bose,, Red Envelope and other upscale merchants. It is offering additional specials as incentives to purchase gift cards.

MasterCard and Visa USA are both running holiday sweepstakes that encourage friends and families to both spend and spend time together. The real objective is to increase usage of their cards.

Visa USA has launched a national promotion that gives 10 consumers the chance to win $100,000 to spend on whatever they want. The "$100K Holiday" national promotion is supported by TV ads featuring a character modeled on Ebenezer Scrooge, point-of-sale and statement inserts, a microsite with an instant-win game giving consumers a chance to win more than $25,000 in additional prizes, including a $1,000 Visa Simon Giftcard. "We want to reward cardholders for using their Visa card for their holiday purchases. Cardholders will be entered for a chance to win when they use their Visa card, so the more they use their card, the more chances they get," said Kellie Krug, senior vice president, marketing communications, Visa USA.

In addition to the $100K Holiday promotion and the instant-win game, celebrity shopping "expert" Jaye Hersh has been named Visa's "Chief Shopping Officer." In this role, Hersh will provide online consumers with holiday shopping advice ranging from how to budget to finding the best last-minute gifts.

MasterCard has begun an instant-win game and "A Home for the Holidays" promotion it will promote as an extension of its long-running "Priceless" ad campaign. Like Amex, MasterCard is hooking up with retailers such as Best Buy to offer its credit cardholders double rewards on its purchases.

Let the charging begin.

* This sentence was corrected after the original story was posted.
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