If you’re unsure how a purchase will be categorized, look at your card’s program disclosures and terms. Merchant category codes can also be a big help.
Dear Cashing In,
Does the 3% bonus on eligible travel purchases with the Citi Costco Visa card include train tickets? – Yirin
When you have a rewards card that offers bonuses for spending in certain categories, it can sometimes be difficult to know exactly which expenses qualify.
Sometimes, the answer is obvious. If you have a card that awards bonus points at restaurants, and you eat at a standalone restaurant, that almost certainly would qualify.
But what about your office cafeteria? Or a place that sells food along with lots of other merchandise? There, the answer is not so clear.
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Check the fine print
The first place to start looking to find out if a certain expense qualifies for a bonus is the fine print of your card terms. If you go to the website of the card you have, you should be able to find a link with basic financial information on the card – such as its interest rate, annual fee and late fee.
But rewards cards almost always have another link, often listed as something like “program information” or “program terms.” It gives you the same nitty-gritty details, but they are about the rewards: how you earn them, how you redeem them, when you can use them, when they expire and so on.
Incidentally, you should look at these disclosures when you are applying for a card. That’s because advertising materials can be vague, and having the specifics can help inform your decision.
Looking at the program terms for the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi, it says that you receive 3% back on “eligible travel purchases worldwide, including airfare, hotels, car rentals, travel agencies, cruise lines and Costco travel.” However, it also lists “certain non–qualifying purchases,” which states, “you will only earn 1%, not 3%, for purchases made at timeshares, campgrounds, bed & breakfasts and for purchases of train and commuter travel.” In other words, train tickets are not eligible for the bonus.
See related: “Travel expense” covers a few surprising areas
When in doubt, look for the MCCs
If you’re still unsure about a purchase, you can always check the merchant category code (MCC). Banks and issuers use MCCs to categorize and track certain types of purchases. If you can figure out which MCCs earn you extra points, you can look up specific merchants using an online tool to see if they qualify.
To be absolutely certain, you need both the list of MCCs that earn rewards points from the bank, plus the merchant’s assigned code. If you don’t have both of those, you cannot know for certain if an expense qualifies.
If all else fails and you can’t find the MCC or the information you’re looking for in your card’s program terms, though, you’ll just have to charge your purchase and wait until it shows up on your bill and rewards summary to find out its category.
See related: How to find a business’s merchant category code