In a typical world, many a cardholder enjoys using hard-earned credit card points for travel rewards. But today’s COVID-19 world is anything but typical!
Unfortunately, most elite credit cards offer terrible cash back options, effectively strong-arming cardmembers into using points for travel rewards. However, there are still a few premium cards for those who prefer to redeem points for cash back without having to compromise on the benefits and services of a top-notch credit card. These include Mastercard® Gold Card™, Mastercard® Black Card™, and, since summer 2020, Chase Sapphire Reserve® and Chase Sapphire Preferred® through Chase’s new and improved Pay Yourself Back™ program. Through this new program, Chase cardholders can redeem their Ultimate Rewards® for statement credits in specific spending categories at a rate of 1.5% (Reserve) and 1.25% (Preferred) versus the card’s usual 1%.
Here, more information on this new program, and what other elite credit cards you should (or shouldn’t) be considering if you are looking to start cashing out your points for statement credits.
First, what is a typical cash back rate in the luxury credit card market?
1% cash back is the most common rate in the luxury credit card market, a redemption value typically offered by Chase Sapphire Preferred®, Chase Sapphire Reserve®, Mastercard® Titanium Card™, and U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® Card.
So how can I get more than the typical cash back rate?
The Mastercard® Gold Card™, the top-of-the-line card in the Luxury Card portfolio, is the clear frontrunner for cash back redemption value in the elite credit card market. Points are redeemed at a value of 2% and cashed out in the form of a statement credit or direct deposit to a checking account. Say you spend $200,000 per year and earn 200,000 points. A 200,000-point redemption with this card equates to $4,000 cash back.
Mastercard® Black Card™ also provides a cash back rate higher than industry standards. The card allows points to be redeemed at a value of 1.5% and cashed out in the form of a statement credit or direct deposit to a checking account. In this case, 200,000 points equates to $3,000 cash back.
In addition, the Chase Sapphire Reserve now also offers a cash back rate of 1.5%. It should be noted that, unlike the Mastercard Gold and Black cards, this redemption can only be done for specific spending categories:
• Grocery stores
• Dining (including take-out)
• Home improvement stores
The Chase Sapphire Preferred has also upped its cash back rate to 1.25% for these same categories. It should also be noted that since both Chase cards offer points bonuses on certain categories (like 3X points for travel on the Reserve and 2X points for travel on the Preferred), it may be easier to rack up 200,000 points with the Chase cards than the Mastercards.
Initially Chase had implemented the enhanced “Pay Yourself Back” as a temporary COVID benefit, expiring September 30, 2020. However, it has now announced that the program will continue far beyond this (with no specific end date). Hooray!
Which cards should I avoid if I prefer cash back on my credit card purchases?
The Citi Prestige Card offers a return of .08 cents per ThankYou® Rewards points when opting for a statement credit (up from a previous half-cent last year). Erasing an $80 purchase of your choice now requires 10,000 Citi ThankYou Rewards. At this 0.8% cash back redemption rate, 200,000 points translates to a value of $1,600.
In terms of American Express, Membership Rewards® are great for many things, but cash back isn’t one of them. American Express’ Platinum and Gold cards offer the option of statement credits to “cover your card charges” at a value of 0.6 on your Membership Rewards points. At this 0.6% cash back redemption rate, 200,000 points translates to a purchase eraser of just $1,200.
In normal times, depending on how much you value some of the main perks of elite credit cards and their rate of return on travel rewards, a cash back option may not matter. However, many premium benefits are currently restricted or nonexistent. Access to The Centurion Lounge airport lounge network with The Platinum Card by American Express? Not happening during social distancing. Bonus points for travel and restaurant purchases with the Chase Sapphire cards? Few are booking travel or eating lavish restaurant meals these days. All this to say, if you’re looking to keep the perks of a top card (e.g., concierge services, prestige, implicit insurances) but want the most risk-averse return on your points, it may be time to reconsider your credit card portfolio.