Barclays PLC's U.S. card unit has replaced Bank of America Corp. as the issuer of cobranded credit cards for the Freeport, Maine, catalog retailer L.L. Bean Inc.

As part of the deal, Barclays said Monday that it has opened a call center in Wilton to provide customer service for L.L. Bean and other cobranding partners.

L.L. Bean said it had sought "a bank partner that was willing to make a commitment to the state of Maine to support the new program."

The retailer's Barclays-issued cards, for which customers can start applying today, will run on the Visa network and will not have an annual fee.

The partners have increased cardholder rewards to include free shipping on returned items and benefits associated with the Visa Platinum or Visa Signature programs, like access to exclusive events and concierge services.

"Barclays went the extra mile with us" on the reward program, Chris McCormick, the president and chief executive of L.L. Bean, said in a press release.

L.L. Bean had said in May that it would not renew its contract with B of A, ending a 12-year relationship that began in 1996 with MBNA Corp., which B of A purchased in 2006.

A spokeswoman for L.L. Bean said at the time in an e-mail, "Our new partner is a U.S.-based bank."

Another spokeswoman said Monday that the reference was to the Barclays unit, Barclaycard U.S. in Wilimington, Del.

"We didn't shift gears," she said.

Barclaycard U.S. recently scooped up other former MBNA and B of A partners, including Barnes & Noble Inc. and US Airways Group Inc., which jumped to Barclays after its merger with America West Airlines in 2005.

(Bank of America settled a breach-of-contract lawsuit against the airline last year and has the right to continue issuing those cobranded cards through March

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