Unless VISA and MasterCard get the Supreme Court to stop it, MBNA will begin to issue American Express cards alongside its current range of VISA and MasterCards by the end of this year. The announcement this week of the partnership between the world’s second largest card issuer, and the world’s third most powerful payment card brand, is the first such deal in the USA. American Express has nearly 90 partnerships with banks to issue its cards outside the USA. However, VISA has a U.S. bylaw and MasterCard has a U.S. policy that prohibits members from issuing competitive cards, i.e. American Express and Discover. In October 2001, a U.S. District Court Judge ruled that VISA’s and MasterCard’s rule violated antitrust laws and weaken competition, harming consumers in a number of ways. Earlier this month, a U.S. Appeals Court rejected VISA and MasterCard’s request to overturn the lower court ruling. VISA and MasterCard say they will request the Supreme Court to review the lower court decision and consider how joint ventures are treated under the antitrust laws. Meanwhile, the government is seeking to have a stay removed that was put into place shortly after the 2001 ruling. If VISA and MasterCard are unsuccessful at the Supreme Court, then it is likely that other members of the associations will follow MBNA, adding AmEx cards to their product arsenals. American Express says it is in discussions with other potential U.S. partners and will likely announce more deals within the next six months. Under the MBNA-AmEx agreement, MBNA will be responsible for designing the product. Therefore, you will likely see many new variations of AmEx cards in the marketplace over the next few years. The move will also ratchet up competition between all the major brands, most likely producing more perks for consumers and businesses. American Express is the king of charge cards and the dominant player in business cards. MBNA is the king of affinity cards and a specialist in higher credit limit cards. MBNA is also the pioneer of the “Platinum” VISA and MasterCard. MBNA has generally been one step ahead of its competitors. By the end of this year you’ll know whether MBNA has sprinted ahead of the pack or stumbled.