Frequent Flyer

JetBlue Dumps Amex

Although American Express has fallen on hard times, the outlook for big credit card sign-up bonuses is bright.

In some circles, American Express is considered the king of travel-rewards cards. Among its many loyalty-related products, the company issues the Delta SkyMiles and Starwood Preferred Guest credit cards, and the various Amex-branded cards linked to its own Membership Rewards program.

The company’s product portfolio, and its reputation for industry domination, took a one-two body blow last week with the announcements that it was losing two high-profile card partners.

Amex’s 16-year run as the exclusive credit card issuer for Costco will be terminated next year, as will its 11-year relationship with JetBlue as the issuer of its TrueBlue credit cards. The Costco tie-up alone accounts for around 10 percent of Amex’s cards, and 20 percent of its loans, according to Bloomberg.

Silver Lining for Consumers

While the mighty have fallen, mightily, Amex is hardly facing a future without merchant partners or card users. Its largest airline partner, Delta, recently re-upped for another six years, securing for Amex the source of around five percent of its consumer card spending and 15 percent of its card loans in 2013 (source: Bloomberg). And the contract with Starwood was also recently extended.

Still, the defections show that the relationships among credit-card issuers and their merchant partners are hardly settled matters. The end of a contract is as likely as not to be the end of the relationship, as merchants look for lower costs and more robust marketing.

More relevant to credit card users, the turbulence is a clear signal that members of travel-loyalty programs remain a highly desirable segment of the market to card issuers. That means fierce competition for their patronage, and a continuation of the past several years’ aggressive sign-up bonuses, which have become the preferred earning tactic for many mileage aficionados. It should also auger well for the expansion of card-related benefits, like elite-qualifying miles, priority boarding, and so on.

The outlook for big credit card sign-up bonuses: bright. For Amex, not so much.

Reader Reality Check

Do you care whether your travel-rewards card is issued by Amex or Citi or Chase?

This article originally appeared on

By Tim Winship

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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