Chase Credit Cards lays an egg with this Fail

Banks are the biggest partners with frequent flyer programs.  Since the introduction of the Citi American Airlines AAdvantage credit card more than 20 years ago, consumers have learned how to accrue enough miles for a free trip just by saying "Charge it."  It is expected today that every frequent flier program is associated with a miles-earning credit card.

Outer envelope
Although United and Continental Airlines recently merged, the airlines and their frequent flier programs continue to operate as separate entities.  This means that someone who enjoys the benefit of avoiding the checked baggage fee with their Chase Continental Debit Card would have to pay up if they flew a United flight into Denver.  (In fact, the benefit may not be available soon anyway.  Although the Chase site does not mention it, product information on the Continental Airlines site notes "*The fee waiver for checked bags in conjunction with the Continental Airlines Debit MasterCard will not be valid for travel on or after April 1." and there is a Tweet suggesting the product is no longer offered.)

In the meantime, Elite-level frequent fliers don't know if their perks on Continental or United will be maintained once the programs merge.

Confusing letter
Which brings me to the interesting challenge for Chase Bank, the issuer of Visa and MasterCards for both the United and Continental loyalty programs.  Today, they offer different sets of benefits on their United credit cards compared to their Continental credit cards.  That might lead a consumer to wonder which set of loyalty program credit card benefits will remain when the integration of their rewards program is complete within a year.  So why would someone sign up for a card with a $395 annual fee expecting certain benefits only to learn that they were merely short-term benefits?

The letter here is defensive and incomplete in its attempt to address these concerns.  It adequately communicates some of the product's benefits, but fails to suggest that these benefits will be available in the long term.  The opening of the letter assures the reader that "in most ways" the OnePass program will continue as it is today; however it does not affirm that the Presidential Plus program will continue as it is offered today.  That means that this letter could get a Fail for Offer if neither Chase nor Continental/United are aware of future benefits or if they are aware of their intentions to change them by 2012.  Even though it is a credit card solicitation, the letter suggests it is an update on the progress of the merger.  It references "OnePass offers that you will be receiving this year," suggesting that this offer is not the most compelling.  Should the recipient take this offer or wait for a better one?

Insert front cover
The letter also merits a Fail for Creative for several reasons:
  • The tone of the letter is defensive.
  • It is not easy for a reader to scan the contents or message.
  • The offer touted on the envelope is buried.  It turns out that the complementary Presidents Club membership is available by being a Cardmember during the year that the annual fee is waived.  However, discovering that important fact requires reading the body copy in the fourth paragraph then doing the math. 
  • The body of the letter does not open with specific consumer benefits.  The fact that United/Continental is excited about the merger has no value to a consumer.  In fact, it can suggest negative value, because the letter does not address the company's motivation for excitement.
  • The tone is too formal and dry for a consumer communication.  For example, there is a heavy use of passive verbs such as "...you will be receiving this year" when a dynamic communicator would write "...you will receive this year".  Perhaps Chase attempted to use a business to business communications style because most frequent travelers are business people.  However Chase/United/Continental forgot that business travelers are also consumers.  They read memos at work, not at home.
  • There is a typo in the 2nd paragraph.  The letter states that the programs "...will hen merge into a single program in 2012."  Hens lay eggs.  I believe they meant "...will then merge..."  Of course, a more dynamic letter would read "...and then will merge..." or even "...and then merge into a single program in 2012."
  1. Your customer communications should be clear, concise, and simple.  
  2. Communicate your key benefits simply and reinforce them.  
  3. Avoid passive verbs.  
  4. Use an independent proofreader to catch typos.

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