CardsFTW #86: J.Crew Launches a Mastercard

Plus, when airlines merge, what happens to their cards?

A Programming Note

'Tis the season when the fintech news cycle tends to calm, banks take their well-deserved holidays, and the networks experience a momentary pause. CardsFTW will take a holiday break at the end of the month, and barring some excitement, you can expect some shorter editions this month.

J.Crew Moves to Mastercard

No joke: this is the current J.Crew Credit Card.

Clothing retailer J.Crew announced that it would be moving its private label credit card business from Bread (Alliance Data / Comenity Bank) to a new program with Synchrony Financial. In addition, J.Crew will add an open-label Mastercard product to the portfolio with the move. The program is currently closed-loop only. We wrote about this last week, some of the struggles of pure private label programs, and we’re going to count this shift as growing evidence that open-loop co-brand cards will be long-run winners in the modern retailer landscape.

Synchrony will acquire the existing portfolio from Comenity. The card will be focused around J.Crew’s loyalty program, J.Crew Passport. There aren’t a lot of details on the specifics of the card benefits and programs, although there is a strong lean into mobile and digital-first options. For many years, these types of capabilities were the realm of fintech program issuers, but traditional issuers are encroaching on the space.

I’m not much of a J.Crew shopper, but I hope the new card has stronger benefits than the existing program. While adding the Mastercard acceptance network goes a long way to making the card more useful, there is also more competition in the consumer card space, and the program will need to give more than free shipping at to stand out.

When Airlines Merge

I was surprised by this weekend’s news of Alaska Airlines acquiring Hawaiian Airlines. The combination sure sounds better than Jetblue + Spirit, which is stuck in antitrust land. Both airlines are on the smaller side and have cobranded card programs issued by less popular banks. Bank of America issues Alaska’s cards, while Hawaiian has a Barclaycard US program and a program with Bank of Hawaii.

Alfred Aska

The last time Barclay card was in an airline merger (US Airways and American), they kept a version of the program, leading to a complex world for American Airlines with cards from both Citibank and Barclays. Similarly, Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood led to a bifurcated portfolio with both American Express and Chase products

The leaves on the left are transparent. The World Elite logo is always a nice touch.

Loyalty cobrand program agreements typically include exclusivity clauses (e.g., the travel brand can only have one card partner), but these mergers lead to some odd situations. I’ll watch closely to see how the banks and cards turn out with this merger. When Marriott acquired Starwood, there were a lot of questions about what would happen. Other than new plastic designs and more card options, not much has changed. You can hold Marriott cards with both issuing banks, and it appears, at this point, to be a long-term situation,

My wallet carries both the Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard and the Alaska Airlines Signature Visa today, indicating my strong desire to fly to Hawaii. When I can merge all those miles, it’ll be time for a first-class splurge and to cancel a card.

Me, Elsewhere

Everyone's talking about Apple and Goldman Sachs going their separate ways. What will happen to the Apple Card? I was quoted in Bank Automation News last week, diving into Apple's big decision: should they partner with another banking service provider or acquire one? It's a huge choice that could shake things up in tech and finance. I was also quoted in Fortune, discussing preapprovals and credit cards for consumers.


CardsFTW is a weekly newsletter, released most Wednesdays that offers insights and analysis on new products in the credit and debit card industry for both consumers and providers. CardsFTW is authored and published by Matthew Goldman and Ellen Perl of Totavi, LLC. Totavi is a boutique consulting firm specializing in fintech. We bring real operational experience that varies from the earliest days of a startup to high-growth phases and public company leadership. Visit to learn more.

*Indicates a company where Totavi, LLC has a business relationship.


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