Credit Cards Aim to Give Consumers the Celebrity Treatment

Free flights, movie gift cards and double points at Starbucks seem like great reasons to get a credit card, but a few credit card companies are coming around to the idea that it makes good business sense to treat some of their customers – some of the time – like VIPs. Banks like CitiGroup and JPMorgan & Chase are now offering loyal customers special access and discounts for events you thought only the rich and famous could afford. These rewards really up the incentive to put more of your purchases on plastic, especially if you’re a music and movies junkie.

That’s where the “good business sense” comes in. But what are we talking about here exactly?

If you’re someone who follows Ticketmaster on Twitter – if you have drawers filled with concert tees that show off all of the performances you’ve attended – then a recent special event that CitiGroup set up for its customers will leave you green with envy. Just a few weeks ago, Citi rented New York’s Lincoln Center – all 13,695 seats of it – so that 2,700 Citi AAdvantage cardholders could come together and enjoy a private show by Alicia Keys. Customers could purchase tickets to the special evening for $50 to $175. That’s a super-small fee for a one-of-a-kind experience.

CitiGroup isn’t the only credit provider offering special events packages to its customers these days. Other banks, like JPMorgan & Chase, have played around with exclusive events in the recent past, too. Last year, Chase offered its Sapphire cardholders the chance to attend the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, and this year they’re doing it again. There’s not enough room for everyone who wants to go, of course, so it’s sort of a hybrid sweepstakes/rewards thing they’ve got going on. But still – notice the trend. People love the VIP treatment, and credit providers know it.

As a perk, VIP access to special events makes sense because it promotes customer allegiance. But a much-hyped, one-time-only event also does something else: it induces people to spend freely with their credit cards in an effort to amass the required points before the clock runs out. With air miles, people are prepared to build points slowly, over time. But when you’re talking about a single show in December, that’s true scarcity. So for banks, the VIP treatment is a no-brainer. The credit issuer makes back its money in interest, and customers, when they’re receiving the royal treatment on the cheap, feel like winners.

So if you’ve been using all of your points to purchase flights back home, you might want look into the other rewards your card offers. If you’re a lucky VIP, you might be able to spend the weekend rubbing elbows with the rich and famous not the broke and desperate. When you want to feel like the big deal that you think you are, think about switching your credit to a company that wants to make you feel like a superstar. For a nominal fee, of course.