As electric scooters roll out in more cities, how can you earn bonus rewards on your rides? It’s all in the merchant category codes. When I took the two leading scooters for a test drive, only one earned bonus travel rewards on my Visa.
Dear Cashing in,
A few weeks ago electric scooters started appearing all over town. You need a credit card or debit card to rent one. What’s the best card to use? – Zach
Here’s how the scooters work: Using an app on your smartphone, you can find a nearby scooter and rent it in just a few steps. Scooters are a fun way to zip around a city and bypass traffic, though the flood of scooters is also setting off debates over safety and increasing worries about too many of the vehicles clogging sidewalks.
Scooter supporters say they reduce traffic congestion and allow people to move more freely over short distances. The two main electric scooter companies, Lime and Bird, each charge $1 to rent a scooter, plus 15 cents a minute.
Since you are renting them through an app, though, you need a credit or debit card. With Lime, you buy credits in blocks of $10 or $20, then the expense is debited from that credit. With Bird, your card is charged after each rental.
Bonus rewards and merchant category codes
If you are mindful of credit card rewards, you might have wondered how exactly the charges appear on your credit card statement, since that can determine whether you are eligible for extra reward points.
When it comes to earning bonus reward points, everything depends on the Merchant Category Code (MCC) of the company charging your card. If your card receives bonus points at restaurants, the place where you ate must be coded as a restaurant for you to receive the points.
Usually, the MCC is obvious, but there are sometimes surprises and gray areas – especially when it comes to “travel” expenses.
See related: How to find a business’s merchant category code
Taking scooters for a rewards bonus test ride
Uber and Lyft count as travel for rewards purposes – what about Lime and Bird? I tested them out myself, riding scooters for each and charging them to a Visa card that gives bonus points for travel.
Here’s what I found:
– Bird counts as travel and earns extra reward points.
– Lime does not count as travel and earns ordinary points.
What this means: If you ride Bird scooters, and you have a card that gives extra points for travel expenses, use that card for scooter rentals. If you are riding a Lime scooter, it doesn’t matter what card you use.
Rewards cards with a bonus for travel expenses
Cards that give bonuses for travel purchases include the Chase Sapphire Reserve (annual fee: $450), Chase Sapphire Preferred (annual fee: $95), Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card (annual fee: $95), Citi ThankYou Premier (annual fee: $95, waived the first year), and Costco Anywhere Visa Card from Citi (no annual fee with Costco membership).
Scooter rentals might also count as an online purchase for cards that give extra points for that category, such as the Uber Visa card from Barclays (no annual fee).
Because Bird is considered a travel expense, that also means you can likely use points for scooter rentals by taking a statement credit if you have a Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.
Since scooters are not too expensive, you probably won’t earn too many points by taking advantage of travel category bonuses. But every little bit counts.