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Lookout Amex your Platinum/Centurion cardholders will switch to Merrill Lynch Visa

Lookout Amex your Platinum/Centurion cardholders will switch to Merrill Lynch Visa

Old Apr 21, 04, 11:27 pm
  #1  
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Join Date: May 2002
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Lookout Amex your Platinum/Centurion cardholders will switch to Merrill Lynch Visa

Amex your being attacked...What are you going to do? I think Merril Lynch has a little more clout than Stratus Rewards...Free Ritz hotel stays without using points
Cruise upgrades,Air travel using points...This sounds like a neat product and I am thinking of switching to this product.

A New Contender for Your Wallet

Merrill Jumps Into Card War
With No-Fee Rewards Offer,
But Does It Beat Platinum?
By RON LIEBER
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
April 20, 2004; Page D1

Last year, Merrill Lynch clients withdrew $3 billion from their accounts to pay off credit-card bills. Now the company wants a piece of that action.

Merrill Lynch & Co. today is introducing its own new credit card, the Merrill+ Visa, which it's launching with card giant MBNA Corp. The card's major selling points: generous benefits with an ultra-low interest rate and no annual fee.

The company is joining a growing number of brokerage firms that are offering their clients plastic, part of the industry's push to capture as many of their customers' financial transactions as possible. Last month, the Smith Barney unit of Citigroup Inc. launched a new MasterCard that offers cash refunds and American Airlines miles. UBS AG, Charles Schwab Corp. and Morgan Stanley offer debit cards with their accounts but no credit cards.

Merrill, which has offered a debit card with rewards for several years, faces stiff competition in the credit-card arena. Banks have been bombarding their affluent clients with offers for a long time now. Most of them already have a card at the top of their wallet that earns them hundreds of dollars of cash rebates or tens of thousands of frequent-flier miles per year.

In an attempt to dislodge those cards, Merrill is offering its card with no annual fee, unlike most similar cards, plus an interest rate of 5.9%. (While interest rates are rarely fixed permanently, Merrill doesn't anticipate having to raise its own for at least 12 months.) Cardholders will earn one point per dollar charged and can then trade those points for free airplane flights.


The new Merrill+ Visa credit card.


The big spenders among them will also get cruise upgrades, massages and free nights at Ritz-Carlton hotels. These cardholders don't have to redeem any points for the rooms; they just have to spend a certain amount of money annually to get them. While Merrill is aiming its pitch primarily at current customers, others will be able to apply for the card as well.

The big brokerage firms' push into plastic comes at a time when every card company is marketing multiple rewards cards. For the three months ended Feb. 29, 53% of all direct-mail pitches were for cards that earn cash refunds, travel, or other rewards. That's up from 30% in the same period two years ago, according to Mintel's Comparemedia, a tracker of such offers.

During the past year, Bank One Corp. alone has launched at least half a dozen new rewards cards aimed at the same upper-income consumers that the brokerage firms are chasing. One offers up free Starbucks coffee, another grants discounts on Audis, and a third sends donations to a breast-cancer organization.

Merrill's program allows cardholders to trade the points they earn for plane tickets on four major airlines, which will be announced in coming weeks. For 25,000 points (30,000 for non-partner airlines), they can book trips of up to $500 and go anywhere in or out of the USA, as long as they book at least 21 days in advance and stay over a Saturday night.

This compares favorably with other rewards schemes that offer similar point ratios for domestic travel, though competing cards often offer no international option at that point level. There is no cap on the number of points cardholders can earn each year.

The new Merrill card also borrows the airlines' idea of assigning elite status. Users who spend at least $20,000 in a calendar year graduate to the first level, and those who cross the $50,000 threshold land in the top rank. Merrill's elite cardholders are eligible for better cabins on Princess and Cunard cruise ships, upgrades on certain British Airways flights, and massages at Canyon Ranch and other fancy spas.

But the perk that's likely to resonate the most is the free nights at Ritz hotels. The $20,000 spenders get one per year, while the $50,000 chargers get a total of four. Without the card, four nights at the Ritz could easily run more than $1,000. The card also offers medical-evacuation insurance for people who hurt themselves in faraway places.

While no one, of course, chooses a brokerage firm on the basis of the credit card it offers, the absence of a credit card is a clear gap in the product line of any financial-services firm with ambitions to be a one-stop shop. Brokerage firms also see credit cards as a way to make their revenues more predictable.

In terms of rewards, Merrill's offering is one of the more generous cards in recent years. So consumers have every reason to wonder whether Merrill plans to slash away at the goodies or spring an annual fee on them after a year or two. In fact, Merrill's record isn't good in this regard. A few years ago, it raised certain reward-redemption rates for debit-card holders by 50%, infuriating many customers. Eileen Serra, Merrill's head of consumer banking, says of the new card, "We've been very cognizant when designing awards of making sure we could afford them."

Big spenders who like fancy hotels and free domestic-coach travel may want to switch to the Merrill card, which offers lower fees and more benefits than Smith Barney's new card. (If you don't have a Merrill broker who can sign you up, you can apply at www.card.ml.com.) But people who value frequent-flier miles for their first-class upgrades and international travel opportunities may want to stick with an airline card. Or they could use American Express Co.'s Green, Gold or Platinum cards, which offer points that customers can trade for merchandise or frequent-flier miles. Because premium seats can cost thousands of dollars, it makes it hard to purchase them with Merrill points. People with lots of miles will usually get more value out of their rewards for this type of flight.
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Old Apr 22, 04, 4:31 am
  #2  
 
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Competition is Good

Bring it on - let's see what they offer.

AMEX PLAT has been going downhill since 1998, and is accelerating rapidly.

Last edited by eMailman; Apr 22, 04 at 4:33 am
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Old Apr 22, 04, 6:59 am
  #3  
 
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4 free Ritz nights for spending 50000$ is a nice perk, however European Amex Centurion cards offer one free night at each MO hotel in conjuction with a paid night, which is a benefit regardless of spending and exceeds the 1000Eur annual fee in value IMO. You can have up to 19 free nights this way!!!
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Old Apr 22, 04, 11:03 am
  #4  
 
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Not so fast!!!

Originally Posted by Centurion
Amex your being attacked...What are you going to do? I think Merril Lynch has a little more clout than Stratus Rewards...Free Ritz hotel stays without using points
Cruise upgrades,Air travel using points...This sounds like a neat product and I am thinking of switching to this product.
Wall Street Journal said:

In an attempt to dislodge those cards, Merrill is offering its card with no annual fee, unlike most similar cards, plus an interest rate of 5.9%. (While interest rates are rarely fixed permanently, Merrill doesn't anticipate having to raise its own for at least 12 months.) Cardholders will earn one point per dollar charged and can then trade those points for free airplane flights.
Nice BUT...

Merrill's program allows cardholders to trade the points they earn for plane tickets on four major airlines, which will be announced in coming weeks. For 25,000 points (30,000 for non-partner airlines), they can book trips of up to $500 and go anywhere in or out of the USA, as long as they book at least 21 days in advance and stay over a Saturday night.
OOPS. 21 days in advance and a $500 limit. I never pay more than $250 to $300 that far in advance. In fact, I rarely use 25,000 points on other than an expensive last minute ticket or an overseas ticket.

These points cannot buy domestic upgrades or international flights. Do not know who the partners are yet so $500 in value could cost 30,000 points.

Doesn't seem a threat to AMEX yet. With Starwood card I can turn 20,000 points into 25,000 airmiles and a free ticket. Nice.

Let's see what else is offered.


The new Merrill card also borrows the airlines' idea of assigning elite status. Users who spend at least $20,000 in a calendar year graduate to the first level, and those who cross the $50,000 threshold land in the top rank. Merrill's elite cardholders are eligible for better cabins on Princess and Cunard cruise ships, upgrades on certain British Airways flights, and massages at Canyon Ranch and other fancy spas.

But the perk that's likely to resonate the most is the free nights at Ritz hotels. The $20,000 spenders get one per year, while the $50,000 chargers get a total of four. Without the card, four nights at the Ritz could easily run more than $1,000. The card also offers medical-evacuation insurance for people who hurt themselves in faraway places.
Nice. If you will use it. While I consider the point value suspect, these are real for users. Still I want my points where I can eventually get real air miles and AMEX Platinum offers that. I like access to DL, NW and CO clubs free when traveling on their flights. I like the upgrades I get with selected hotels. AMEX Platinum offers the medical-evacuation benefit BTW.

Bottom line from the Wall Street Journal is.

Big spenders who like fancy hotels and free domestic-coach travel may want to switch to the Merrill card, which offers lower fees and more benefits than Smith Barney's new card. (If you don't have a Merrill broker who can sign you up, you can apply at www.card.ml.com.) But people who value frequent-flier miles for their first-class upgrades and international travel opportunities may want to stick with an airline card. Or they could use American Express Co.'s Green, Gold or Platinum cards, which offer points that customers can trade for merchandise or frequent-flier miles. Because premium seats can cost thousands of dollars, it makes it hard to purchase them with Merrill points. People with lots of miles will usually get more value out of their rewards for this type of flight.
I agree. I'm staying put.
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Old Apr 24, 04, 5:42 pm
  #5  
 
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Originally Posted by WSJ
Big spenders who like fancy hotels and free domestic-coach travel may want to switch to the Merrill card, which offers lower fees and more benefits than Smith Barney's new card.
Who are these people who like fancy hotels and domestic coach travel?
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Old Apr 24, 04, 7:55 pm
  #6  
 
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I looked at this service also, but as a current AMEX/CENT cardholder (grandfatherered at the $1000 annual fee as well), I do not see Merrill Lynch's program as competitive. As much as I loathe having to deal with AMEX CSR and AMEX in general, and would *l o v e* to be using a Visa or M/C product with the AMEX/CENT feature-set (where, oh where, is Citibank with a high-end, perk-loaded affinity card program ??????), AMEX's CENTURION card still offers one perk I can't replicate and need - the Starwood SPG PLATINUM elite perk. This justifies the CENT and its ridiculous annual fee for me. Hyatt Diamond would be nice if I ever used Hyatt, and it has some potential value to me as a backup to the starwood perk, but the starwood perk is what keeps me paying the $1000/yr.

ML could give their program a MAJOR [tangible and desireable] upside by getting Hilton or Marriott to bestow their highest-level affinity to anyone holding ML's card. You heard it first from me.
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Old Apr 25, 04, 6:53 am
  #7  
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The Ritz Carlton nights are the only real unique value in the Merrill card. It's not quite enough to get me to put $50k of spend on the card, but my ears perked up a little. I don't want Merrill's useless points.
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Old Apr 27, 04, 12:25 am
  #8  
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Dinners Club Alliance with MasterCard

Wow another blow and this time from dinners club!

http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/showt...ferrerid=12193
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Old May 5, 04, 9:48 pm
  #9  
 
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Originally Posted by ILUVCITIBANK
I looked at this service also, but as a current AMEX/CENT cardholder (grandfatherered at the $1000 annual fee as well), I do not see Merrill Lynch's program as competitive. As much as I loathe having to deal with AMEX CSR and AMEX in general, and would *l o v e* to be using a Visa or M/C product with the AMEX/CENT feature-set (where, oh where, is Citibank with a high-end, perk-loaded affinity card program ??????), AMEX's CENTURION card still offers one perk I can't replicate and need - the Starwood SPG PLATINUM elite perk. This justifies the CENT and its ridiculous annual fee for me. Hyatt Diamond would be nice if I ever used Hyatt, and it has some potential value to me as a backup to the starwood perk, but the starwood perk is what keeps me paying the $1000/yr.

ML could give their program a MAJOR [tangible and desireable] upside by getting Hilton or Marriott to bestow their highest-level affinity to anyone holding ML's card. You heard it first from me.
Not competitive? For a mere 50K in charges you get 3 FREE Ritz nights plus the other benefits on the merrill site. Also you can get the three free nights each year. Plus the FREE Ritz upgraes on a card that charges no annual fee and has a decent interest rate? I think this is the best card to come along in a while. I could never justify the centurion card unless I got double points with them for all my charges. AMEX now charges taxes for miles transferred to the airline programs. TO me that stinks. On AMEX starwood you at least get 25% bonus with no tax charges to transfer 20K miles into every single major airline including AA which is not a MR partner...>Rob
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Old May 5, 04, 9:50 pm
  #10  
 
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Originally Posted by gleff
The Ritz Carlton nights are the only real unique value in the Merrill card. It's not quite enough to get me to put $50k of spend on the card, but my ears perked up a little. I don't want Merrill's useless points.
Did you look at the Merrill merchandise partners. They are not bad at all. Considering they charge no points for the (3) free nights I see no other such perks from any of the award/point cards I currently own. Merrills useless points are no more useless than MR points. Merrill has some excellent partners.

Rob
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Old May 8, 04, 11:22 am
  #11  
 
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With no airline elite programs, it just wouldnt work for me.

As a person who ends up spending 10-20 nights at Four Seasons and Ritz Csrlton per year, I'd love that benefit in Amex.'s Cent program.
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Old May 8, 04, 10:32 pm
  #12  
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Centurion gives you upgrades on most domestic airlines and hotels. I don't see this card as competing with that.

QL
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Old May 8, 04, 11:18 pm
  #13  
 
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robertw477,
the ritz is so far out of my typical spending patterns and consumer preferences, that their affiliation with this chain is actually a disincentive. ditto for the hour sessions with a jet.

An hour in a jet gets me no where that I need to go and can't get there with a 25K award at a decent airline or a $250 priceline tix.

Both are ultra-high end perks that do not appeal to me, no matter the ratios of dollars to points.

IMO, Merrill has created a dud just like diners club did with their high-end product whose name escapes me because it was designed so poorly. I trashed the invitation I got the day it arrived from diners club, and waited until, true to my guesstimates, citibank mercifully pulled the plug.

This one seems to be targeting "old wealth" and I am not sure those guys will respond.

AMEX's Centurion card, IMO, appeals more to "new wealth", ie the group about whom the book "The Millionaire Next Door" was written, and with AMEX's shotgun approach in selecting affinity partners and elite perks for their Centurion card...managed to catch me with one single perk...but it was enough. It is telling that AMEX has tied up Hyatt (DIAMOND), Starwood (PLAT), and Hilton (GOLD) with one single credit card product...I'm betting exclusives at that. Merrill is shut out of the three major hotel chains it appears.
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Old May 9, 04, 9:21 am
  #14  
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Originally Posted by eMailman
Bring it on - let's see what they offer.

AMEX PLAT has been going downhill since 1998, and is accelerating rapidly.
Another Platinum member here that is looking for options...
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Old May 9, 04, 8:47 pm
  #15  
 
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Exclamation

Originally Posted by ILUVCITIBANK
robertw477,
the ritz is so far out of my typical spending patterns and consumer preferences, that their affiliation with this chain is actually a disincentive. ditto for the hour sessions with a jet.

An hour in a jet gets me no where that I need to go and can't get there with a 25K award at a decent airline or a $250 priceline tix.

Both are ultra-high end perks that do not appeal to me, no matter the ratios of dollars to points.

IMO, Merrill has created a dud just like diners club did with their high-end product whose name escapes me because it was designed so poorly. I trashed the invitation I got the day it arrived from diners club, and waited until, true to my guesstimates, citibank mercifully pulled the plug.

This one seems to be targeting "old wealth" and I am not sure those guys will respond.

AMEX's Centurion card, IMO, appeals more to "new wealth", ie the group about whom the book "The Millionaire Next Door" was written, and with AMEX's shotgun approach in selecting affinity partners and elite perks for their Centurion card...managed to catch me with one single perk...but it was enough. It is telling that AMEX has tied up Hyatt (DIAMOND), Starwood (PLAT), and Hilton (GOLD) with one single credit card product...I'm betting exclusives at that. Merrill is shut out of the three major hotel chains it appears.
I dont understand this stuff. On the surface if you look at all of the point cards-membership rewards, citi aa, etc. They offer no perk like the merrill extras (3 free nights etc) There is no disputing this. I have a large number of the point cards. I dont get one single thing from any of them without spending points. Those Ritz nights are a tremendous perk on a card that charges no annual fee. The heck with Amex. I do several million in charges on the amex cards I have and I see no such extras. They charge me annual fees on all the cards I hold. Considering the huge profits they make from me you would think at the least there would be a way to use points to pay the annual fees. They offer no such thing...In some of my dealings with amex I have not always been so impressed with their service or their reps.

I like when AMEX reps tell me that they offer the same great level of service to the guy that charges 50 bucks a month to me somebody who is an AMEX merchant, and also spends from 1.2-2 million in charges per year. Amex has no real appreciation for their members.

Now the comments about centurion getting you domestic upgrades to first, I heave not heard anything about that. Are you guys saying I can book all my aa tickets in coach and get unlimited domestic upgrades? The airline club thinghas limited appeal for me. You need to be flying the airline that is offered, and only a few airlines qualify. AMEX platnium offers the same perk.

Starwood platnium status is not worth a cost of 2500 a year either..You definitely can trade the ritz certs or give them as a great gift to somebody. AMEX even charges the fees for the Membership reward program on many of their cards. They just pile on the fees.

Rob

Last edited by robertw477; May 9, 04 at 8:56 pm
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