Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Leavenworth Visa Card

In recent years, there has been an explosion in so-called loyalty cards rewarding you for your purchases and affinity credit cards advertising your membership in an exclusive group. From frequent flier reward cards to university affiliated credit cards, your wallet can say a lot about who you are and how you live. But, as with any new popular trend, there are winners and losers. Here are just a few of the cards that ultimately didn’t make it:

Train Miles
Amtrak’s loyalty reward program seemed to be doomed from the very start. Awarding one point for each train mile travelled followed the industry standard. However, earning 1,000 bonus "Whoops" points for each derailment did not endear the Train Miles card to most Amtrak customers. Once frequent rail riders realized that accumulated points could only be redeemed for more train tickets and onboard goods and services, the Amtrak loyalty program quickly went off the rails. Now primarily owned by masochists and collectors of railroad paraphernalia.

The Yugo Mastercard
For several years, a proud Yugo owner could have a Mastercard embossed with a picture of a brand new, four-wheel Yugo. Not only did the card demonstrate pride in ownership, it also provided such useful extras as 24-roadside assistance and free towing anywhere. Since there was also a two percent cash back credit to be used on Yugo parts and service, Mastercard quickly realized their Yugo card was hemorrhaging money like its automotive namesake. Still used in Belgrade and parts of northern Saskatchewan.

The Leavenworth Visa Card
Graduates of many of America’s finest schools have snapped up credit cards showing their affinity to, or membership in, such institutions. Since one of the nation’s most famous institutions is Leavenworth Penitentiary, it was hoped that present and past members would apply for this special Visa card in droves. However, it turned out that most Leavenworth grads were not interested in advertising their past institutional affiliations. Apparently Visa’s slogan "It’s everywhere you want to be" has a few exceptions, one being federal maximum security prisons. One notable exception seems to be inmates charged with identity theft or credit card fraud.

The Ford Pinto Texaco Gas Card
This card was a so-called co-op affinity card advertising both a car company and an oil company. Often combining two different brand name products can have a synergistic effect. Unfortunately, in this case, no such synergism was ever realized. In fact, the more the gas card was used, the sooner the user’s Ford Pinto blew up. Today, the gas card is, like its car model namesake, a rare collector’s item usually found only in automobile memorabilia collections or Federal District Court evidence storage facilities.

The No-Name Discover Card
Thinking that a linkage with a cross-section of generic products would boost Discover card usage, card company executives introduced the No-Name version of the card. Sadly, it turns out that even purchasers of generic goods and services weren’t interested in "Discovering" their world, at least not with a Discover card. To date, the Discover card remains the only non-affiliated card in the financial sector.

The Blue Cross Diner’s Club Card
Looking to boost moribund revenues, the venerable Diner’s Club card entered into a joint venture with America’s premier health care insurer. Although the new card appeared to be a win-win venture for its two partners, it was unable to carve out any desirable or profitable market segment. It turns out that fine diners who subsequently need medical service in the form of emergency room treatment or a full stomach pump do not comprise a big enough, much less a desirable, target group to pursue. The one promotional TV ad linking fine dining and emergency medical care has reportedly not been shown beyond YouTube.

Subway Miles
Another New York City exclusive, the Subway Miles card rewarded frequent users with extra "miles" on the city’s underground transit system. Initially, riders took to the convenient electronically fare-loaded plastic card. However, program limitations eventually derailed the experiment when users found out they could only redeem their accumulated "miles" at the which is accessible only be bus, whose drivers would not honor the Subway Miles card. The
subsequent discovery that the miles could only be used on the line after 11 P.M. on weekdays and on certain specified Sundays was likely the last straw for this noble experiment in urban mass transit.

The Libertarian Party American Express Card
Membership has its privileges with the Libertarian Party American Express Card. As with other politically affiliated cards, this one let users self-identify as belonging to the country’s fastest growing political movement. Unfortunately for card users, membership also has its liabilities, terms and restrictions. Once card users discovered there were credit limits, purchase restrictions and strict repayment guidelines, the sound of cards being cut up from coast to coast was almost deafening.

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