Cobranded retail credit cards seem to be gaining favor with recession-weary consumers looking for immediate bargains.

The percentage of consumers carrying a store-branded Visa, MasterCard or American Express card in their wallet has nearly doubled in the past year, new data from Auriemma Consulting Group suggest.

Some 36% of respondents to a recent survey said they had a cobranded retail card, up from 17% who said so in a similar survey a year earlier. Auriemma commissioned Issues and Answers Network of Virginia Beach, Va., to survey 400 U.S. credit cardholders online in February for the consulting firm's monthly Cardbeat report released April 3.

Though retail cobranded cards rose in popularity, airline-rewards cards slipped a bit. Some 23% of consumers said they carried a card generating points in a frequent-flier program, down from 28% who said so a year earlier.

Gasoline-rewards credit cards rose, with 21% of consumers sporting cards offering free or discounted fuel, up from 15%. Cash-based rewards cards continue to reign supreme, with 76% of consumers carrying such cards, up from 70%.

Other types of reward cards not specifically identified in any category declined to 41% of cardholders compared with 57% a year earlier.

The fresh popularity of retail cobranded cards is "somewhat dramatic," Scott Strumello, an Auriemma associate, tells PaymentsSource.

The firm theorizes that, besides generating rewards at a favorite store, the cards offer consumers special discounts when applying along with access to continual special sales and promotions.

"Consumers are expressing more interest in what they consider to be day-to-day values," Strumello says. "It's not that airline-rewards cards have ceased to be popular, but a growing number of people are interested in retail cards that give them immediate value from rewards and shopping with the card."

Certain card issuers have responded in recent months with new cobranded retail card programs (see story).

Rewards credit cards as a whole are more popular than they were a year ago, Auriemma said in its report.

Sixty-two percent of consumers in the recent survey said they had a rewards credit card, up from 56% who said so a year earlier.

At 27%, JPMorgan Chase & Co. was mentioned most often as the issuer of the rewards credit card respondents used most often, followed by Bank of America Corp., 14%; Discover Financial Services, 14%; American Express Co., 13%; Citigroup Inc.'s Citibank, 7%; Capital One Financial Corp., 6%; Wells Fargo & Co., 4%; and Barclaycard U.S., 3%. The rest were unsure.

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