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Accor is closing its French Visa cards, so don’t expect to see one here

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Back in 2020, Accor Live Limitless – the hotel loyalty scheme for Ibis, Mercure, Novotel, Sofitel, Raffles, Pullman, Fairmont etc – announced a major deal with Visa to issue credit cards across the world.

We were told that credit cards would be issued by “Visa partner financial institutions and banks in key markets across Europe, North and South America, Middle East and Asia Pacific”.

The first cards launched in France in 2021 with BNP Paribas. It has just announced that they are being closed down at the end of 2024 as ‘commercially unviable’.

If Accor can’t make credit cards work in its home market of France, I think we can forget about other European countries with the same interchange fee caps.

Accor credit cards closing in France

I was always unconvinced by this project.  Even the announcement with Visa seemed off.  Visa was never going to be able to force Barclaycard, Lloyds Bank, Virgin Money etc to issue an Accor credit card in the UK.  Accor would still need to negotiate, country by country, to find an issuer.  The only carrot was presumably that Visa had agreed especially low fees for processing the transactions.

More fundamentally, Accor Live Limitless is a 100% revenue based loyalty scheme.

1 Accor point = 2 Eurocents off a hotel room.  There is no ‘reward chart’ and therefore no gamification element.  You can’t be clever and save your points for a day when hotel prices are high.  You get 2 Eurocents per point, 365 days of the year.

This means that an Accor Visa card was always going to be, effectively, a cashback credit card.  It’s just that the cash has to spent with Accor.  Given that most cashback credit cards in the UK are paying 0.1p to 0.2p per £1 spent, we could never have expected much.

How were the French Accor credit cards structured?

The project launched with three cards:

  • Pulse – €54 annual fee, 0.25 points per €1 spent, 10 elite night credits per year, 1000 points as a sign-up bonus
  • Explorer – €162 annual fee, 0.4 points per €1 spent, 20 elite night credits per year, 2000 points as a sign-up bonus
  • Ultra – €408 annual fee, 1 point per €1 spent, 30 elite night credits per year, 5000 points as a sign-up bonus

There were additional ‘soft’ benefits, such as travel insurance, and all three cards had 0% FX fees and free ATM cash withdrawals.

Accor credit cards

Ignoring the value of the elite nights, the breakeven level was high:

  • Pulse – €10,800 of annual spend
  • Explorer – €20,250 of annual spend
  • Ultra – €20,400 of annual spend

This was the amount you had to put through the card simply to earn back your annual fee in points. Only spending beyond these levels actually left you ‘up’.

I don’t know if the points counted towards status – I don’t think so, looking at online comments. It would make little sense given that an Ultra cardholder would have earned Platinum status with just over €1,000 per month of spend.

Why are the cards being closed?

There had already been a shake-up of the portfolio in 2023. The Pulse card (the one where you recouped the annual fee quickest) was dropped. The Explorer card moved to ‘first year free’.

I’m not sure what the culture is in France towards credit card annual fees. Obviously it is not a country with the same credit card enthusiasm as the UK.

You can do the maths though. You were paying €408 at the top end for a card returning 2% in Accor hotel credit, being funded from interchange fees of 0.3%. Very high spenders would come out OK but you’d struggle to justify the fee otherwise. BNP Paribas would have been taking a big loss on the high rollers and I suspect the rest quickly decided that the fee didn’t justify the return.

The elite night credits were not worth much. The structure of the Accor programme means that, uniquely in the industry, you are far more likely to earn status based on spending rather than nights. This is because the spend target is very low – eg Platinum status requires $5,600 of spending or 60 nights. Multi-room stays skewed the numbers even more, because you could credit two rooms of spend per stay towards status, but only one room counts towards your nights total.

If Accor can’t make a Visa credit card succeed in a country where it is a household name and has a disproportionate percentage of its hotels, it is unlikely to work anywhere else with interchange caps. The cards offered in the UAE and India may have a brighter future due to uncapped retailer fees.

We can probably tick Accor off the list of hotel groups who are looking to launch a UK credit card.

Accor Live Limitless update – May 2024:

Earn bonus Accor points: Accor is not currently running a global promotion

New to Accor Live Limitless?  Read our review of Accor Live Limitless here and our article on points expiry rules here. Our analysis of what Accor Live Limitless points are worth is here.

Want to earn more hotel points?  Click here to see our complete list of promotions from Accor and the other major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Offers’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.

Comments (33)

  • Constant says:

    Having lived both in France and the UK, France again now, I can confirm that there is definitely not the same enthusiasm here for credit cards, but would like to point out that this lack of interest largely stems from the banks & issuers. As evidenced above, these ALL cards never really made sense. There is very little alternative in the way of cash back cards. And Amex offers over here are extremely unattractive compared to the UK: sign up bonuses are low, and benefits are less interesting or come with a sneaky catch.

    It is possible that consumer protection laws make this market what it is – I’d guess the authorities would not look kindly to a bank that suddenly takes a number of people to debt.

    With the EU market being so open, perhaps savvy French residents could open an amex card in Belgium or an Iberia Visa in Spain?

    • Patrick says:

      Most have residency requirements and credit checks, i tried a couple of years ago and gave up.

    • PeterV says:

      With very few exceptions, not possible as tied to residency

    • can2 says:

      Having lived in Paris as well, dealing with French banks, including BNP is an absolute nightmare…

    • Lady London says:

      It might depend on the specific branch as when I studied in a town South of Paris the college had set up relationships for all of us with each of the town’s three banks and Société Générale were excellent.

      • Patrick says:

        Out of curiosity, which school was it, since I was in the same situation with Société générale partnerships during my studies in the south of Paris?

  • ankomonkey says:

    Do BNP Paribas own Creation? If so, and if the companies are run similarly, maybe Accor dropped the deal for various reasons most of us here can probably relate to 😉

    • RussellH says:

      Yes, BNP DO own Creation.
      And I was told in the forums about a year ago that BNP have been trying to sell Creation for some time…

      • Colin_Thames says:

        When I saw the news that BNP were pulling out I was not surprised. If Creation couldn’t make the IHG card work, why would an Accor card work? TBH I’m quite relieved to hear that BNP and Creation are pulling out. Shocking customer service from Creation and BNP leasing. I’m surprised the FCA let them continue to have a licence. I wouldn’t wish one of their products on my worst enemies.

  • Patrick says:

    I am using the Explorer card at the moment.
    Granted, the first year free was great, and the 20 nights give you silver status.
    Points received from spend indeed do not count for status.
    To me the annual fee is offset by the benefits gained, since the earning rate is negligible. Silver members get a welcome drink and late checkout, handy with family. I stayed enough last year to offset the costas well as make Gold and should retain it for next year with the nights benefits.
    True, the French market is not amenable to loyalty credit card, the only one I know is working ok is the Air France Amex, the vast majority is paying already for a card linked to the current account.
    French people are much more into loyalty memberships with store chains rather than cashback/ loyalty CC

  • Lady London says:

    Banking in France is poor quality and restricted services compared to the UK and even a plain current account is expensive with a typical fee just for having it 2 or 3 euros per month.

    There is virtually no credit card provision and I think that’s due to government / Banque de France not wishing the economy to have them. Credit runs like UK in the 1970’s.

    For anything above just having a current account fees are often charged eg 10 euros fee to bank if you set up a beneficiary on your account to pay money to. You may not even be allowed to do that yourself online with some banks or accounts.

    There are often disproortionate fees, such a 5 euros charge for using another bank’s ATM.

    What the French market laughably calls a credit card, means you still have to settle in full at the end of each calendar month. There is a slight credit potential of up to 4 and a half weeks planning if you can time the expense but that”s it.

    To have this type of “credit card” you need to pay annual fee for a Gold card which is mid -level same as in the UK and there is not much other benefit perhaps on some a pretty muvh worthless travel insurance. Platinum level cards mostly don’t relax the pay at end of
    month “credit” requirement. Gold Card cost from arouns 50 euros p.a to much more. Platinum annual cost stratospheric, still with poor benefits.

    Card costs are added to monthly ccount fees and various transaction fees. If you pay off a loan early the bank still takes the entire interest for the original term (except for loans below 10k euros most people and banks don’t know about.

    Penalties for going overdrawn are high and lasting and don’t even think about bouncing a cheque even accidentally.

    I think we can say the French economy is unlikely to overheat due to excess credit. Though sclerosis might be a problem.

    It’s all so old fashioned and consumer-restrictive. The French don’t seem to like their banks much either, quite often.

    • ukpolak says:

      I think this is spot on – I remember the high street Soc Gen in Grenoble closing for 1.5-2h every week day, at lunch time. Which meant that those of us needing F2F appointments had real challenges if we were constrained to usual work / education timetables.

      • Roy says:

        That’s the norm in the UK now in some smaller branches due to staff shortages. I’m not sure how we got to this point

  • Bob says:

    I never seen a single ad for this card in France.

    And I heard about it twice, and it was everytime like today, on HFP.

    Rob you are almost the only one who mentionned it.

    So accor should have tried to promote it in the first place, to customers I mean not during PR exercises.

    Accor tried also their “Compliments” american express card in the 90’s in France too and closed it a few years after.
    I had that one: but there were no advantage to have it. So I cancelled it two years after.

  • Wally1976 says:

    I worked at Egg in the early 2000s and was there at the time they launched the Egg France credit card. I wasn’t really involved with the project but got flown out to Tours for a very pleasant launch party. (The one and only time I’ve ever been abroad with work 🤣).

    Anyway, needless to say the product didn’t last long despite the (at the time) extremely successfully UK Egg credit cards it was modelled on. I remember they had to buy a French bank otherwise it would’ve been too hard to get a backing licence over there.

    • Bob says:

      I still have my Egg France credit card of that period: the design is still genuine and still completely unknown in France.

      I was surprised Egg France never controlled my income, I guess that was the rule in the UK, but in France no credit company or bank would have done it this way and do not do it this way yet today. It was a genuine change.

    • Degsy says:

      I worked for a similar company at a similar sort of time. Very well established here and we tried to replicate this success in France, as well trying to crack Italy & Spain – we gave up pretty quickly on all three markets as the attitudes to credit there were so different to the UK.
      (Bit like the Dads Army credits albeit in reverse when I think back.)

    • Patrick says:

      That was a tough Egg to crack

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