AmEx launches customer loyalty network; may offset loss of Costco deal

AmEx customer loyalty network with AT&T, ExxonMobil and Macy's may help offset loss of Costco partnership

In an ambitious twist on customer loyalty programs, American Express Co. is teaming up with a coalition of well-known brands to allow consumers to earn points for shopping at one of the companies and then to use them at any of the others in the network.

Plenti, as the venture is known, already has enlisted companies that include AT&T Inc., Exxon Mobil Corp., Macy's Inc., Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. and Rite Aid Corp., AmEx said Wednesday.

The program, to launch this spring, is expected to include more brands in additional categories. Participants would earn at least one point for every dollar they spend.

US Loyalty, an AmEx division, will manage the program, which is free to consumers. AmEx said it would issue a Plenti credit card, but shoppers also would be allowed to pay with cash, debit cards or other credit cards, including those from rival card companies.

By way of example, AmEx said participating consumers who earn Plenti points when buying Mobil gasoline, signing up for certain AT&T wireless services, or getting auto or fire insurance at Nationwide, could apply the points toward a purchase of clothing at Macy's. 

The venture would help AmEx offset the loss of its status as the exclusive credit card accepted at Costco Wholesale Corp. stores.

The Costco partnership, which ends as of April 2016, represented 8%, or $80 billion, of AmEx's billed business and about 20%, or $14 billion, of its interest-bearing credit portfolio.

The New York company in 2011 acquired Loyalty Partner, which operates similar multi-partner loyalty programs in Germany, Italy, Poland, India and Mexico and has more than 60 million active customers.

"This is a perfect time for a coalition loyalty program in the U.S., as online marketing becomes more efficient and American consumers become more accustomed to rewards programs, special offers and discounts," said Ed Gilligan, president of American Express.

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