Card art gone wrong: Where is the name of my card?

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Reading Greg’s post this morning about the Marriott properties to book before the coming devaluation (See: Book these category 5 Marriott hotels before it’s too late) probably has some people reconsidering the value of their Marriott Rewards Premier credit card now that the annual free night certificate is losing a number of Category 1-5 options. That had me taking stock of my credit cards, and I couldn’t help but consider how they look, even if that isn’t the most scientific means of comparison.

Surely, credit card companies spend a lot of money with marketing firms on the physical design of their credit cards and the cart art that graces them — some spending more than others, with heavyweights like the Ritz-Carlton Visa Infinite keeping my wallet difficult for a pickpocket to lift. I know that when I started on my rewards card journey, I couldn’t wait to have a sleek Sapphire Preferred in my pocket, without anything but my name and that deep blue prism-look on the front.

I won’t lie, there was part of me that wanted a Virgin America card just for the way they boldly decided to print the front in the wrong direction.

Then there have been some all-out fails. Citi Prestige, I’m looking at you and the way you thought you’d be hip by printing the magnetic stripe on the front of a card with a black background, leaving me to try to convince people that there really was a stripe and it was on the front and no I wasn’t a card thief printing multiple stripes in every which direction. Thank goodness I was already married when the Prestige card came out — I’m not sure that I would have gotten many second dates given the frequency with which waiters would come back to sheepishly say, “Sir, your card isn’t going through.”

What an odd design!

Citi eventually realized how dumb that was and redesigned it with the stripe on the back where it belongs. They even got with the program on issuing a metal card (or at least a piece of metal sandwiched in plastic), the new status quo for a $450-per-year card.

The newer Prestige design was a yuge improvement.

Design flaws aside, all of the above cards share one common feature: they all have the name of the card printed on the front. That seems pretty basic, doesn’t it? If you’re going to go through the trouble of paying a marketing team and an accounting team to collaborate on designing a card with a set of marketable benefits, it’s reasonable to think that you want people to know what the card is, right? In the case of the Prestige card, I can’t help but think that the purpose behind putting the stripe on the wrong side was specifically to make the card a conversation piece — and what good is that conversation if it doesn’t give the card a little bit of advertising, right?

Apparently, American Express looks at things a bit differently. Check out two of my new American Express Hilton cards — one of them is the Ascend card and one is the Aspire card. Which one is which?

At the grocery store the other day, as I was making conversation with the cashier and typing in my loyalty number, I glanced down at my wallet to pull out the Ascend card (since it earns 6x at the grocery store), and I very nearly paid with the Aspire. And I write about credit cards and miles and points for a living. I can think of several family members who would constantly pay with the wrong card and/or just not be able to remember which is which.

Really, Amex? Is that the best you can do to differentiate these?  Don’t get me wrong — I’m thrilled with the benefits of the Aspire card,  especially in comparison to the way that Marriott’s latest devaluation has hampered the value of the annual Category 1-5 certificate that comes with the Marriott Rewards card. In fact, it’s hands-down my new favorite hotel card. I just wish I could easily tell which one is my favorite when I look down at my wallet.

Is it unfair of me to compare a $450-per-year card with an $85-per-year card? Maybe, but I’m happy to pay $450 per year for $500 in credits and an annual fee night valid at nearly any Hilton property. But is it too much to ask for Amex to print the name of the card on the front? If they aren’t going to print the name of the card anywhere, at least make the effort to use distinctly different color schemes. Apparently, Hilton is giving out so much value on the Aspire card that they couldn’t afford to also pay for different colors of ink to adorn the front.

I’m sure that Amex isn’t banking on many people carrying both cards — after all, only Hilton die-hards would want to carry two different Hilton cards, right? Delta must be different. Delta fliers get a Blue card, a Gold card, a Platinum card, and a Reserve card — each featuring a distinct color….and the names printed on them. Charge card members get Green, Gold, and Platinum colors…and the names printed on them. “Everyday” customers have perhaps the most difficult task in terms of differentiating cards — though even then, the word “Preferred” does appear on the front of the Everyday Preferred.

Don’t get me wrong…I’m not wishing for Hilton to waste money on more ink at the expense of the generous set of benefits on this card. But did they really have to print the words “American Express” on the front twice without printing the name of the card once?

Call me old fashioned, but I hope Amex reconsiders the design for future iterations of this card. In the meantime, I look forward to finishing my minimum spend and collecting my latest 100K points. Hopefully, I’ll spend on the right card.

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