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ATLANTA – As credit unions around the country begin adding bonus programs to their credit cards to help keep them competitive, a major hotel chain with a bonus program has released a study that claims to characterize cardholders’ bonus program behavior. Six Continents Hotels, the parent company of such chains as Inter-Continental, Crowne Plaza, and Holiday Inn, says a study of participants in its Priority Club Rewards program indicates consumers relate to their credit card benefit program in one of six different and distinct ways. According to the study, consumers who use credit card benefit programs are Swingers, Shepherds, Stashers, Snobs, Sherlocks, or Slackers (See sidebar). The program reviewed thousands of members’ patterns of point and mile collecting (earning) and redeeming, then categorized members according to what drives their practices and aspirations – dreams, deals and even “diva-expectations,” the company said. Whether using airline, hotel, phone or retail frequency programs, players who understand their behavioral tendencies can choose travel programs that offer exactly what it takes for them to realize their rewards faster, the firm maintained. Licensed psychologist and author of 14 books on relationships, Dr. William G. Emener, Ph.D., echoed the study’s findings. “[This study] reveals behavioral tendencies that surface not only in point collection, but in every day situations,” said Emener. “The inherent trigger that makes the Sherlock search six different stores for the best deal on a new suit also prompts him to check the Web sites of each major hotel program for the best point promotion before his next trip.” Pamela Mulder, the global director of the Priority Club Program acknowledged that the alliterative, funny, titles for the categories can lead to an impression that marketing underpinned the study, but she maintained firmly that real research went into the effort. “We wanted to re-tool and re-release our priority rewards program, and did so back in January,” Mulder said. “This research was part of that re-tooling effort. It represents thousands of hours of focus groups and surveys conducted by market researchers,” she said. She also said an anthropologist and academic researchers had also been involved in the effort and that they had produced the categories genuinely, although she admitted that the actual titles of the categories had not been the titles used by the researchers in their studies. Mulder maintained that the study broke new ground in looking at how card users relate to their credit card bonus and air mileage programs and that the study had found the categories can shift over time. “One of the ways we found card behaviors changing was with a change in lifestyle,” Mulder said. For example, one of the participants in the firms told us about how, when he was working as an executive at a major financial firm, he more or less would have fit into the “snob” category. “He didn’t really save his miles or points, he would use them on upgrades to better airline seats or better rooms since he traveled a great deal,” she added. But the executive’s card point behavior changed significantly after he began to work for himself as a consultant, Mulder explained. “All of the sudden his card point priorities shifted and accumulating points for free travel began to be a lot more important,” she said. Marriage and starting a family were other examples of lifestyle changes especially significant to point behavior, Mulder said. Randy Petersen, editor of Inside Flyer Magazine and a well-known expert in mileage and bonus programs said it would be difficult to overestimate the importance of the Priority Club study, despite its role as a market tool. “How people really use their card programs and which program would fit which person has really not been very studied,” Petersen said, a fact he said he considered “surprising” given the rising popularity of similar types of programs. One of the study’s particular strengths came from its willingness to let the participant describe their own point behavior instead of moving into the survey with ideas of what that behavior “should” be or what the firm might want it to be, Petersen said. Another strength came in the study’s willingness to gather more data from the participants than just their card use. The study “gives a broader context” into which to understand bonus point use and redemption, he said. Petersen advised the card issuers take the studies findings into their card programs and focus on offering their cardholders a wide variety of different card bonus options, not just mileage accumulations but also upgrades, not just bonus point accumulations but an awareness of how some people go about gathering their points. Then, he said, credit unions and other issuers should let their cardholders define what sort of cardholder they are. Don’t make assumptions that this program feature or that program feature will be the one that a given cardholder is going to want, he said. “Instead, ask them what their priorities are for a card program. Ask what they want their bonus points to do for them,” he said. [email protected]

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