The Curious Case of BA's Disappearing Credit Card Offer

(Editor's Note - As of Wednesday afternoon, February 17, this offer has again been terminated. The P.R. agency representing Chase, the card issuer, claimed that the promotion's reappearance was a "technical glitch.")

First, the offer for new British Airways Visa credit card accounts:

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  • 50,000 Executive Club miles after the first purchase charged to the card
  • 50,000 more miles after charging $2,000 during the first three months
  • $50 discount on British Airways tickets charged to the card
  • Free companion award ticket for cardholders who charge $30,000 or more in a year
  • Annual fee: $75; variable annual percentage rate on unpaid balances, currently 13.24 percent

When it was initially announced last year, I called it the world's most lucrative credit card promotion. But then, after less than a month, the offer was pulled and replaced by a rather generic sign-up bonus.

In January, the process was repeated: The big-bonus promotion was on again, but within a week it was off again.

Now, in February (February 16, 0615 hours, Pacific Time, to be precise), the offer has reappeared for the third time.

How long will it be available this time? Based on the promotion's history, and on what the airline and card issuer have offered by way of guidance, there's just no way to tell.

In one email exchange, a marketing representative explained, without elaboration, that the offer had been "targeted." The implication was that only a selected subset of current Executive Club members were eligible to receive the bonus miles, but that the URL of the landing page intended for those targeted recipients had been made public by consumers and the media (including me).

These days, with promotion codes and data-matching capabilities, it's a fairly routine matter for companies to restrict the availability of special offers to the intended recipients.

But the online sign-up page made no mention of any such restrictions, as would be standard procedure in targeted offers. In fact, the application promises that, "If you are not already an Executive Club member, you will automatically be enrolled upon approval for the Visa Card."

And proof positive that the promotion was not limited to Executive Club members, I know several people who were decidedly not targeted—they couldn't have been, since they weren't Executive Club members—but successfully signed up for the card and received the outsized bonuses.

I stand by my original assessment of this offer: The on-again-off-again tactic employed by British Airways and Chase, the card issuer, suggests either marketing incompetence or a conscious passive-aggressive strategy calculated to titillate and create buzz.

Either way, it's a deal that's too good to pass up. If, that is, you're lucky enough to apply while it's in effect.

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