Q: It seems like every time I shop at the Bon-Ton store I am asked to apply for their credit card. I’m in the habit of automatically saying “NO!” when asked this question (at any store) but now that I think about it, I do buy a lot of my clothes, jewelry and shoes there. Should I finally spring for their charge card?
A: There are some things I like about the Bon-Ton credit card, but also some things I’m not a fan of:
Can be used as their sister stores: The parent company of Bon-Ton also owns Younkers, Carson Pirie Scott, Bergner’s and a couple other department stores. The Bon-Ton card can be used at any of them. However since you will typically find each in different geographic regions, there’s a good chance that it will only be useful for you at Bon-Tons, if that’s the one in your area.
There’s no annual fee: Can’t complain about that, right?
Sales and other savings: As is the case with most store cards, there are various perks and benefits that come with the credit card, such as advance notice of sales and a birthday coupon. The higher reward tiers (see below) also throw in from 1 to 3 free shipping coupons each year.
The rewards program is a mixed bag: With a lot of department store credit cards, you earn points or cash back, the amount of which depending on how much you spend. The credit card from Bon-Ton operates a bit differently.
The points earned for spending will only result in coupons, which will give either 15% or 20% off a purchase for most items.
0 – 499 points = Classic: You can’t earn the coupons at this level.
500 – 999 points = Signature: At this tier every 500 points results in a coupon for 15% for one-day.
1,000 – 1,499 points = Signature Select: Once this level is reached, every 500 points nets a 20% off coupon instead.
1,500 and beyond = Also gives a 20% off coupon per 500 points
Except for furniture (which earns no points) with all of the above tiers you earn the same 1 point per dollar spent. This means that under normal circumstances, you are spending $500 to earn a Bon-Ton coupon for 15% or 20% depending on the tier. (Note that cosmetics, fragrance, and home store purchase will be 15% instead of 20%).
Is this worth it? Well that depends on how the coupon is spent!
If you were to get the 15% off on a $200 purchase, that equals $30 savings. So you basically spent $500 to earn $30… like a 6% rebate (which is good). However it would be a lower percentage if the purchase was smaller.
This means the Bon-Ton rewards program is good if the coupon is used for a big purchase, but mediocre at best if you’re only getting 15% off a small purchase.
Long hold time to speak with customer service: The website didn’t list the interest rate so to find out, I called the customer service number at 1-800-535-2460. After pressing all the buttons and going through all the prompts, I had to wait for an extended period of time until I could speak to someone.
After 10 minutes or so I finally spoke with someone (a foreigner) but he didn’t have the interest rate info for Bon-Ton credit cards, so he had to transfer me and that involved yet another long hold time of another 16-17 minutes. So about 27 minutes of hold time, plus another 3 minutes to answer my question = 30 minute phone call just to find out the darn APR!
Now in defense, the final guy I spoke with was American and was quite nice. So I guess not all of their customer service department is bad, but the long hold times are a definite let down. To give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe it was a one-time event. But either way, having to wait 26-27 minutes even once is one time too many in my book!
The interest rate is steep: So what I learned from that 30 minute phone call was that new accounts opened in Indiana reportedly have a 21.6% APR and for all other states, it is the prime rate + 20.74% = 23.99%. So either way you are looking at a very steep APR.
You cannot apply online: There is no credit card application available online, unfortunately. You can only apply in-store.
The final verdict?
If you do a lot of shopping at Bon-Ton department stores, then this credit card is probably worth it as long as the 15% or 20% coupons are used strategically on larger purchases (but don’t spend more just to try and save more, as that would be a waste!). But if you go with it, just don’t expect to be impressed by customer service.
On the flip side, if you buy clothing at a variety of different department stores then you may wish to consider the Blue Cash Preferred from American Express because it gives you an unlimited 3% cash back at select department stores. Or you can go with the “Everyday” version which has no annual fee and gives 2% at select department stores.
Written or last updated November 15, 2013