This evening I was going through my credit card drawer checking my cards for foreign transaction fees in order to decide which cards to bring to Italy tomorrow. Some cards you might not expect to have waived foreign transaction fees do (Chase British Airways) and some you might expect to waive them don't (US Bank Flexperks Travel, although apparently they've recently changed that).
In any case, I was checking the terms and conditions of the Chase Ink Plus card online, and suddenly had a moment of disorientation. Which card's terms and conditions was I looking at?
I did a double-take and checked my own terms and conditions, which show a $95 annual fee. Had Chase quietly raised the annual fee on their Chase Ink Plus credit card?
Not exactly, or at least not yet.
Different offer channels appear to show different annual fees
If you navigate directly to Chase's Ink website in an incognito window or after clearing your browser's cookies, you should find the $95 annual fee offer alive and well. I was able to replicate this consistently.
Additionally, any time you visit the Ink site after viewing the $95 offer — but before clearing your cookies — you'll continue to see the $95 offer.
But sometimes, and only sometimes, if you search for the Ink Plus through Google and click on one of the sponsored links, you'll instead be taken to this version of the offer, featuring a $150 annual fee.
What's going on?
Obviously Chase pays money to sponsor ads in Google search results, so a trivial explanation would be that they're trying to recoup those expenses by charging new customers acquired in that manner more.
More realistically, I think this is the kind of A/B testing that Google AdWords makes so easy for their customers. Since the population of people searching for "Ink Plus" is both large and targeted, you can easily measure the difference in application rates between those who see a $95 versus $150 annual fee. If it turns out that Ink Plus customers are not particularly price sensitive (don't be one of those!), they may ultimately raise the annual fee for all new applicants and even — heaven forbid! — existing cardholders, as American Express did with the Delta Platinum card in 2014.
I'm heading to Italy early tomorrow morning and won't be really around until we check into the Hilton in Venice late tomorrow night (Italy time). Now I have to go finish packing.