AMERICAN Express has extended its membership reward programme to try to increase its share of the lucrative charge-card market. AmEx card holders who do not do much air travel and were not taking advantage of a frequent-flyer scheme, are now eligible for free dinners, gift vouchers, holidays and even a rifle-range course. The financial services giant extended its membership reward system in October to include the additional perks, said Mark Gordon, vice-president of American Express International. AmEx, the world's largest issuer of charge cards, was also looking at introducing a card with rolling credit in Hong Kong, following the success of the service in the United States. In the cut-throat plastic card industry, which is at saturation point in the territory, it was necessary to cater to all card holders and not just frequent flyers, Mr Gordon said. 'We wanted to introduce rewards for loyal customers who use their AmEx cards to pay bills and go shopping,' he said. 'The new rewards are varied and will attract new clients as there is something for everyone - from children to pensioners.' For every $8 spent using the card, the holders, who must inform AmEx they wish to take part in the reward scheme, receive one point, the equivalent of $1. The lowest reward redemption level is 3,000 points or $24,000, for which participants can cash in on a $500 dinner, tea for two at the Ritz-Carlton or a photo album of Hong Kong's history. Those who chalk up 100,000 points are eligible for a New Zealand skiing holiday for two or a round-the-world trip that includes a Caribbean cruise. Points expire two years after enrolment in the reward scheme, but there is no time limit for air miles. 'Customers will not have to let their points in the scheme expire as there are a broad range of rewards for all tastes,' Mr Gordon said. 'When clients know their points are about to expire, they notify AmEx's 24-hour member service hotline, tell how many points they have accrued and they will be told the different types of prizes they can redeem. 'We will arrange dinners and other prizes and send the customer a coupon. Every client receives a brochure outlining the rewards available.' Since the reward scheme started, AmEx has treated a family, which had accrued 180,000 points, to an eight-course abalone banquet cooked in their home by the Forum restaurant's head chef. Two members, who had accrued 80,000 points each, carted home Lego and dolls after a three-minute shopping spree in Toys'R'Us. AmEx also hopes to attract new members in Hong Kong with a rolling credit option card, which is being tested and scheduled to be introduced before the end of the year. 'Customers in Hong Kong are demanding more payment flexibility,' Mr Gordon said. 'AmEx has a charge-card tradition where customers have to pay the total outstanding bill at the end of a month but we are looking at ways of enhancing this system. 'Holders of the rolling credit card will be able to elect at the end of the month how much debt they will repay.' Interest, at a rate that has not been determined, would be charged on the outstanding balance, he said. AmEx was hoping to break into the competitive local credit card market, slashing interest rates on rolling credit, he said. 'There's a lot of opportunity in Hong Kong to sell to customers who want plastic card facilities with a revolving credit option that is priced fairly,' he said. 'The average cost of credit card interest in the territory is in excess of 24 per cent, which is calculated at two per cent a month. 'Most offer a simple interest of 24 per cent but, when it's compounded interest, the amount charged is closer to 26 per cent.' With a big gap between five per cent interest rates on savings accounts and 24 per cent charged on credit cards, AmEx would be able to offer a service with reduced rates and still make a profit, Mr Gordon said. The Hong Kong AmEx credit card would be similar to the company's Optima True Grace card, which was launched in the US in 1992. Unlike other credit cards that charged interest for every purchase if there was an outstanding balance, AmEx hoped to offer a grace period for individual purchases. 'Customers who owe money on an initial purchase will not be charged interest on subsequent purchases that have been paid by the end of the month,' Mr Gordon said. 'The grace period gives customers the chance to pay off some purchases but retain the flexibility of a credit card without exorbitant costs.'