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American Express Co. is joining forces with one of the nation's most aggressive consumer banks, which will use AmEx's Membership Rewards loyalty program as a lure for new Visa and MasterCard users.

AmEx hopes its new relationship with the rival Visa and MasterCard franchises will help pave the way toward eventually getting U.S. banks to issue AmEx cards, a practice currently forbidden by Visa International and MasterCard International.


The new Rewards Accelerator Visa and MasterCard from Advanta Corp. is expected to be a success because it gives current AmEx cardholders another way to earn points in AmEx's Membership Rewards program and creates incentives for its users to keep both cards in their wallets.

Available only to AmEx cardholders, Rewards Accelerator is being offered with no annual fee and an introductory interest rate of 8.9% for the first six months.

Rewards Accelerator allows customers to earn one Membership Rewards point for every $10 charged on the Visa or MasterCard; customers will continue to earn one point for every $1 charged on their AmEx cards.

AmEx's optional 5-year-old Membership Rewards program costs $25 annually, and allows users to rack up points based on total purchases.

Contrary to appearances, however, the tie-in with Advanta does not move AmEx any closer to its coveted goal of getting U.S. banks to issue AmEx cards, analysts say.


"This program makes sense to both companies for marketing, but it's not the same as having Advanta issue AmEx cards, nor is there any indication that Visa and MasterCard will let that happen in the U.S.," said Spencer Nilson, publisher of credit card industry newsletter The Nilson Report.

AmEx Vice Chairman Kenneth I. Chenault said the Rewards Accelerator program is compelling because research shows that most Americans carry more than one card and many AmEx users also carry a Visa or MasterCard.

"We can coexist with bankcards," Mr. Chenault said. "This [program] will enhance the uniqueness of the American Express brand. Our brand is very different from the Visa [or MasterCard] brands, and this program enhances and strengthens us."

Advanta will initially market the Rewards Accelerator cards via direct mail to current AmEx cardholders.

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