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Last Updated: Saturday, 28 April 2007, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
Airmiles switches credit cards
By Bob Howard
BBC Radio 4's Money Box

Lloyds TSB Airmiles Mastercard and Airmiles Duo American Express card
Airmiles will now offer two new cards in partnership with Lloyds TSB
Around two million NatWest credit card holders will no longer be able to collect Airmiles from 1 June.

NatWest is changing its rewards scheme in favour of a tie-up with online travel agent ebookers and easyJet.

Customers will not lose the miles they have accumulated - they will stay in the accounts held directly by Airmiles. Airmiles is writing to NatWest customers to offer them two new credit cards as part of a new partnership with Lloyds TSB.

There is no time limit for NatWest customers to trade in their Airmiles for flights.

And they can still add to them by buying from retailers like Tesco who have their own Airmiles schemes.

The way customers travel has changed, they are demanding more flexibility
Kate Bosdet, NatWest

NatWest said its new scheme is only available to its existing credit card holders with Airmiles accounts.

It will be free for most people who change over, but the bank said some who choose to join may be charged 3 a month for membership.

The Airmiles rewards scheme has been running since 1988, but NatWest said it no longer meets the needs of many of its customers.

Kate Bosdet from the bank believes times have changed. "The way customers travel has changed, they are demanding more flexibility," she said.

"They were telling us they could not do that with Airmiles, so we decided it was time we looked for an alternative."

New deal

Lloyds TSB Airmiles Duo Plus American Express card
The American Express card will give one mile for every 10 spent

Lloyds TSB and Airmiles are launching a new credit card tie-up with effect from 1 June 2007.

It says customers can accumulate miles more quickly with this scheme than the one mile for every 20 spent that NatWest customers received.

The deal offers both an American Express card and a Mastercard on one account, with one PIN.

However customers of the new scheme will only collect twice as quickly on the American Express card.

That gives customers one mile for every 10 spent although critics point out that not all outlets accept American Express.

On the Mastercard, the standard rate after a six month introductory offer will be one mile for every 50, lower than the previous NatWest one.

Simon Calder, travel editor of the Independent, believes the appeal of Airmiles has waned.

Speaking to the programme, he said: "When Airmiles were launched at the end of the 1980s, it was a brilliant success," he said.

"Since then there's now airport taxes, so the cost of using 'free flights' has gone through the roof."

Big incentive

Andrew Swaffield, Airmiles Managing Director
Our partners believe that Airmiles is an extremely motivating reward
Andrew Swaffield, Airmiles

Those opinions are not deterring Airmiles which believes its new relationship with Lloyds TSB will keep consumers signing up.

Andrew Swaffield, its managing director, said partner companies see it as a big incentive for scheme members to spend.

"Our customers can book flights with 110 airlines," he said.

"Our partners like Tesco, Shell and now Lloyds TSB believe that Airmiles is an extremely motivating reward for their customers."

Lloyds TSB estimates customers will need to spend around 4,000 on their more generous American Express card scheme to get a return flight to Paris.

Airport taxes have to be paid in cash.

Martin Lewis, creator of the website moneysavingexpert.com, said that is the equivalent of returning 80p for every 100 customers have spent on the card.

He said consumers would be better off with "cash back" credit cards, which offer up to 3 in every 100.

"If you want a credit card reward scheme, go for the best cash back cards. You can get up to 3% cash back for using a credit card," he said.

BBC Radio 4's Money Box was broadcast on Saturday, 28 April 2007 at 1204 BST.

The programme was repeated on Sunday, 29 April 2007 at 2102 BST.

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