The Southwest Airlines – Chase relationship was up for renewal. That’s a big deal for cardmembers, and also for folks with Chase Ultimate Rewards points because those points transfer to Southwest.
Back in April Southwest engaged an investment bank to evaluate options. I wrote at the time that I expected Chase to retain the card “because it’s more valuable to them than a new bank [because of their installed cardmember base], and because they have the resources.”
And indeed Chase has secured a multi-year extension of the Southwest co-brand. (Thanks to Chase and to several readers including Alan H. and Jeremy D. for sharing.)
With strong financial performance in the travel industry – planes and hotels full – loyalty programs aren’t negotiating from the position of weakness when many of these deals were made last. So Citi renewing American (and beating out Barclays, the US Airways card issuer in the process), American Express renewing Delta, American Express renewing Starwood, and Chase renewing British Airways are all deals that are getting more expensive for the banks. They aren’t buying miles as cheaply as they did in 2008 and 2009 when they were prepurchasing half a billion dollars or more worth of miles at a time to provide airlines with extra liquidity. In the case of Starwood a higher card annual fee helps pay for the deal.
Those deals brought us big signup bonuses, since they weren’t super costly to the banks. But they also brought us to a new equilibrium that’s been tough for the banks to pull back from. As a result, acquiring customers has become more expensive than before — hence recent moves by banks to become better as sifting through applicants up front before awarding bonuses. We see higher spend requirements, less willingness to grant approvals (and in the case of Amex less willingness to grant bonuses to cardmembers who have had a product in the past).
We’ve seen JetBlue and Virgin America change issuers (American Express to Barclays, and Barclays to Comenity respectively). And outside the travel space the big news of the year was Costco.
The next big relationship set to renew (or defect) within the next couple of years is, I believe, United.
In May I wrote that we should see squeezed bank profits on cobrands, higher fees, and less valuable rewards going forward. That still seems right, though card issuers will continue to innovate (within hamstrung guidelines and risk aversion imposed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) but those will generally trade off with existing spend on cardmembers in an era of tight cost controls.