Today, credit cards come packaged with a multiplicity of attractive bonuses and rewards Image Credit: Supplied

As banks attempt to stand out in a crowded marketplace and regain public trust, credit cards, which carry the highest interest rate of all loans, are packaged with a multiplicity of attractive bonuses and rewards. With such schemes, cardholders earn back a small portion of the total amount spent on the card in the form of cash, retail discounts and gifts such as hotel weekend stays or free airline tickets.

The apex of such promotions was reached last year when Hadee Sameh walked away with a two-bedroom seaview apartment at Al Reem Island after winning an annual draw for First Gulf Bank’s Abu Dhabi credit cardholders. Other winners took home cars, marriage and education funds, and travel packages. The bank gave away prizes worth Dh6 million in 2011, FGB’s Huda Abdulla, Executive Vice President – Branch Distribution, said when the winner was drawn.

However, with the market flooded with credit cards, it can feel overwhelming making an assessment. GN Focus draws up a list of rewards that can help narrow down that decision.

Restaurant discounts
With the UAE home to a transient population that dines out more often than average, one of the most popular ways of rewarding customers in the UAE is by appealing to their taste buds with rebates at popular restaurants.

Mashreq Bank recently launched its Flavours programme — featuring a partner network of 400 restaurants serving a wide selection of cuisines around the country — where cardholders can enjoy discounts of up to 25 per cent when paying with Mashreq credit or debit cards. “We are continuing to offer our customers exceptional experiences beyond just banking and endeavour to build sustainable and exciting propositions to our valued customers,” says Nimish Dwivedi, Head of Payments at Mashreq. With the programme, he adds, 40 customers win back the value of their bill after a draw is held each month.
The Najm card from Majid Al Futtaim Finance works on a similar principle with its Just Dine programme, offering customers a dedicated table reservation service, a paperless, virtual card and a mobile application that allows users to access all information on restaurants and deals offered.

Another such programme was recently launched by Emirates NBD. Their Bon Appétit experiences let premium cardholders meet and interact with top chefs and learn exclusive cooking techniques from them in a fun and informative format.

Airline tickets
Most of the airlines  here, including Emirates, Etihad and Air Arabia, have a marketing affiliation with one or more banks so cardholders can accumulate frequent flyer miles that can be used to purchase air tickets to select destinations.
Citibank offers a complete suite of cards, both credit and debit, that help customers earn free flights and upgrades on Emirates and its partner airlines. For every dollar they spend, customers can earn up to two mile in the airline’s frequent flyer programme Skywards.

 The carrier has similar partnerships with many other banks, including Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB), Commercial Bank of Dubai and Emirates Islamic Bank.
Similarly, Air Arabia has partnered with Mashreq, and Etihad Airways has tie-ups with Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADIB), American Express, HSBC and ADCB. With ADIB, for example, cardholders can choose one of three Sharia-compliant cards, earning up to 50,000 Etihad Guest Miles as a sign-up bonus and up to 2.5 miles for every Dh4 spent, for an annual fee.

Numerous vendors offer cash rewards to customers, either by way of instant cashback, providing an immediate discount on purchases, or by entering cardholders into a draw. RakBank MasterCard charges no annual fee. It offers the chance to win Dh1,000,000 every six months, up to 5 per cent cashback on all international retail purchase transactions and cash advances, as well as 1 per cent cashback on total monthly retail purchases on the condition that cardholders spend a monthly minimum of Dh1,000.

The Barclaycard Edge credit card, launched last year, has its own rewards scheme. Customers get 2.5 per cent rewards on all purchases, redeemable on any airline, and 10 per cent cashback on all dining and substantial golf benefits.

Venkatesh Srikantan, Head of Consumer Banking, Barclays UAE, said at the launch: “The dining cashback feature automatically credits 10 per cent of the entire dining bill to the cardmember’s account — eliminating the need to carry vouchers, discount cards, or the need to request a discount from the dining establishment. With UAE consumers becoming increasingly selective about the value offered by credit cards, the Barclaycard Edge offers a never-seen-before package of lifestyle and reward benefits.”

School fees
Last year, the National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD) teamed up with the GEMS Education network, which runs more than two dozen schools in the UAE, to launch an innovative biodegradable co-branded card, offering discounts on advance payment of school tuition with a 0 per cent Easy Payment Plan, education protection coverage of up to Dh500,000 per child, and other value additions.

Richard Forbes, Director of Marketing and Communications, GEMS Education, said at the time of the launch that the co-brand card would offer parents greater financial flexibility and easy payment options.

Other banks such as Dubai First allow consumers to use their cards at any educational institution and repay the amount in three or six easy instalments at 0 per cent interest. A processing fee would apply, usually about 3 per cent.

Abu Dhabi-based Finance House goes one step further with its gold investment plan. Its Titanium credit card, introduced in February, offers a low interest rate of 1.66 per cent per month and no membership fee for the first year. However, its biggest appeal is in the fact that it is the first card providing cardholders with an opportunity to invest in gold. It offers a payment bonus of up to 3 per cent with an option to keep this saving either in gold or in bonus points equivalent to UAE dirhams.

Commenting on the card, Mohammed Wassim Khayata, Group Chief Operating Officer at Finance House, said: “Since inception, Finance House has been vanguard in setting new trends in the banking industry, and this product is another major milestone which will exceed the expectations of our valued customers. We are leading the way and offering the lowest interest rates in the market by launching this unique product, whereby we have decided to go back to the basics of banking. We believe that this product will encourage financial responsibility by setting new low levels of interest.”

By far the most common way of rewarding customers is by some kind of points scheme. HSBC bank has extended its partnership with Aimia, which runs the Air Miles programme in the Middle East. The partnership, which has run for over a decade, allows members to collect twice the Air Miles every time they use their HSBC credit card alongside their Air Miles Middle East card at partner outlets and will now also benefit from HSBC increasing its investment in the Air Miles programme. This will provide HSBC’s customers with an improved value proposition, including better rewards for the Air Miles they currently hold and also for all new miles issued.

“One of HSBC’s key priorities is to offer our customers the best value from a loyalty programme. For our Premier customers, who lead a global lifestyle, a world-class travel rewards programme is an integral value-add,” Marcus Cleverton,
HSBC Head of Cards for the MENA region, said. “By extending our agreement with the Air Miles programme, HSBC will continue to benefit from a strong market differentiator, with our increased investment ensuring our Air Miles proposition is made more rewarding for our customers.”

Elsewhere, the co-branded ADCB LuLu card, available in Platinum, Gold and standard variants, gives consumers LuLu points on every purchase made using the card. These can be redeemed instantly at LuLu stores for vouchers to spend at LuLu, Emirates General Market and Al Falah Plaza outlets in the UAE. The gold and standard card are free for life.

With Noor Rewards from Noor Islamic Bank, every dirham spent on the card will see one Noor point added to the cardholder’s account. Points earned can be redeemed for cash or Flydubai e-vouchers and are valid for up to three years, though some variants require annual fees.

You can also earn Dunia reward points with every transaction on your Dunia credit card; once you have collected 1,000 points on your Dunia gold credit card or 1,800 points on your platinum credit card, you can redeem them for a variety of exciting rewards, including free vouchers for shopping, entertainment, health and fitness, holiday packages and more. Six hundred reward points yield a Dh200 voucher from Abu Dhabi Mall, Dubai Outlet Mall and Mega Mall or a Dh200 voucher from Kaya or VLCC. Every Dh100 spent on the card earns customers one reward point.

CHOICES: The right card
Questions to ask yourself before making a decision on which credit card to choose
1. Are the rewards really beneficial?
2. What exactly is the reward that the card offers?
3. What is the minimum amount you must spend before you start earning rewards?
4. Put a dirham value to the reward. If accruing points or air miles, how many dirhams do you have to spend to earn one dirham back?
5. Realistically, how much must you spend in a single year to win your dream reward?
— M.S.