Although our sleep schedules took a temporary hit when we turned the clocks forward last weekend, the credit card industry stayed well-caffeinated, bringing us new Chase 5% back bonus categories, Amex point transfer deals for some eager travelers, and a report that shows consumers are hungry for new cards again.
This weekly credit card news roundup contains what you should know about the cards in your wallet, other available offers, and new product announcements or reports that aren’t as jaw-dropping as some of the ‘fits we saw on the Grammys’ red carpet, but are still turning heads.
What’s the Lowdown?
Here’s what has caught our attention since March 12, 2021:
Chase Refreshes Freedom Bonus Categories for Spring
Last year dragged on, but 2021 seems to be passing in the blink of an eye. It’s already time for Chase Freedom and Freedom Flex cardholders to enroll in new 5% back bonus categories for Q2. The issuer rolled out its next set of bonus categories over the weekend, and commuters and fixer-uppers should be pleased with the line-up.
Starting April 1, cardholders can earn 5% back on gas station and home improvement purchases (on up to $1,500 spent between the categories through June 30). Gas is a common bonus rewards category (Discover is all over it this spring, too), but 5% back is an excellent earning rate. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a card that offers that much back on home improvement purchases, too, so it’s a great way to earn money back on those spring gardening or remodeling projects.
You can’t earn the extra rewards if you don’t activate the offer. Freedom and Freedom Flex cardholders have until June 14 to enroll, which can be done in a myriad of ways, including through your online account or the Chase mobile app.
Check Amex Membership Rewards Account for Hot Hotel Transfer Deals
We’re already big fans of the travel partner transfer options American Express Membership Rewards offers, and those transfers just got a bit better.
Amex is offering some cardholders a 40% transfer bonus for points moved to a Marriott Bonvoy or Hilton Honors loyalty account through June 15, 2021. Typically, cardholders can turn 1,000 Membership Rewards points into 1,000 points with Marriott or 2,000 with Hilton, but the latest deal means those same 1,000 Membership Rewards become 1,400 Marriott or 2,800 Hilton points. Cha-ching!
Here’s an example of how this translates to dollar value, based on our average point valuations:
These delightful offers may only be available to select cardholders, so check your Membership Rewards account to see if you’re on the Amex nice list. Some of our staff members with the American Express Platinum Card are seeing the offers in their accounts, so that may bode well for you if you have that luxe card, too.
Consumers Are Hungry for New Cards, But Banks Are Being Careful
Many things slowed down or paused last year, including applications for credit cards, but new survey data revealed consumers are starting to get their credit appetite back. In fact, 44.8% of consumers surveyed by The Federal Reserve Bank of New York have applied for one or more types of credit over the past year, which is an improvement from last October and close to the pre-pandemic response rate of 45.6%.
Mortgage refinancing applications have been the most popular (go figure, given the historically low APRs), but interest in credit cards and credit limit increases has grown since last fall. However, banks are still approving credit card applications with caution. The survey found new card applications and credit-limit-increase requests had the highest rejection rates among the loan types surveyed by the New York Fed. (Loan types included credit cards, credit card limit increases, card loans, mortgages, and mortgage refinancing).
If you’re interested in opening a new credit card this year, don’t be discouraged by those findings. A new report from economists at the American Bankers Association predicts credit availability is actually expected to increase over the next six months, thanks to the financial support banks and consumers have gotten from Uncle Sam this year.
Good News, Small Biz Owners: Card Fees Aren’t Rising This Year After All
After a good bit of push back, payment card networks Visa and Mastercard have delayed their anticipated merchant fee hikes until 2022 to cut small businesses a financial break after the year we’ve all had, according to published reports.
While this doesn’t directly impact consumers, it’s something all business owners that take card payments can relate to. The fees ( called “interchange fees”) cover the costs and fraud risks associated with processing debit and credit card payments. Visa and Mastercard had planned to increase their fees before the pandemic hit, but pushed that off until this April. This week’s decision pushes the cost increase even further into the future.
New Card Will Reward You For Supporting Women-Owned Businesses
There’s a new fintech-backed card on the block designed to empower women with every swipe. Seneca Women, a leadership organization all about women-focused initiatives in areas such as equal pay, medical research, and business development, has partnered with Deserve (that hip, credit-building-focused fintech) to roll out “The Card” this spring. The new Mastercard will offer 3% cash back on purchases made at participating women-owned businesses, 2% back on your top monthly spending category, and 1% back on everything else.
Sounds like a worthy product to support, but there are a few fine print details we want to point out.
To earn 3% back, you must shop women-owned businesses that are part of the Seneca Women Marketplace (which currently includes 69 retailers and accepts nominations for more), you can only earn cash back at the 2% or 3% rate on the first $500 spent total each month, and it’s not clear whether the cash back rewards earned with this card can be used for more than nonprofit support.
Compared to most cash-back cards, those features make this card a tad limiting. However, the mission is strong and it’s the first card of its kind. We’ll be playing “Run the World (Girls)” by Beyonce on loop and eagerly awaiting its official launch to learn more.
If you’re intrigued by the early details, join a waitlist so you’ll know when The Card makes its debut.
What Else Is Happening?
- Mass Interest Rate Hikes Are Still a Ways Off: The Federal Reserve met again and despite some promising signs of economic recovery, they still aren’t going to raise the Fed’s benchmark interest rate (which drives the prime rate most credit card APRs are based on). That means carrying a card balance is a skosh less costly than a year ago—but just remember, interest still compounds.
- Amex Upgrades Marriott Card Offers: American Express has refreshed its Marriott card welcome offers just in time to sate our spring travel thirst. Apply for the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card before May 12 and you’ll get the opportunity to earn 125,000 points for spending $5,000 within three months, plus $200 back on U.S. restaurant purchases made in the first six months. Or, open the Marriott Bonvoy Business card to earn 100,000 points for meeting the same spend requirement and up to $150 back in statement credits. The bonus points alone are worth $1,388 and $1,110, respectively, based on our valuations, which should be enough to book at least a couple of award nights.
- Synchrony Bulks Up Sam’s Club Card Rates: The advertised interest rates for the Sam’s Club Credit Card and the Sam’s Club Mastercard have inched closer to what we’d call “economy-sized” rather than “economical.” We noticed Synchrony Bank increased the purchase APRs for both cards (now 23.65% variable and 15.65%-23.65% variable, respectively), and the cash advance APR attached to the Mastercard is also now a smidge higher. These updates come on the heels of Sam’s Club reward program changes that rolled out in January.
- Better Sapphire Bonuses May Be on the Horizon: We don’t normally traffic in rumors, but this one seems more reliable than most, so, here goes: Word has it there are larger Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve bonuses coming March 21, which is good news for anyone who wants to stock up on valuable travel rewards for their first post-pandemic adventure. Reportedly, the Sapphire Preferred card will offer new cardholders 80,000 bonus points (20,000 more than the current offer) and a $50 statement credit for grocery purchases. The Sapphire Reserve card will get a decent 10,000-point boost, too. These are unconfirmed offers, but we think it’s worth keeping your eyes peeled for new deals this weekend.