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In which categories can I get bonus points?


Find out how to maximize your rewards by figuring out which category of purchases earns you the most

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Dear Cashing In,
If I buy an airline ticket from AAA and charge it to my Costco card, will I get 3 percent credit? Does which airline matter? – Marice

AnswerDear Marice,
Cards that have what are known as “category bonuses” can help you rack up rewards quickly. But you need to understand what spending qualifies for a bonus.

Most major banks offer at least some cards with category bonuses. There is a base level of rewards that you earn for most spending, but spending in certain categories can earn you double or triple points or even more.

The most common category bonuses are probably in areas such as travel, gas, groceries and dining out. If you have multiple cards with different bonus categories, you can boost your points by strategically using your cards at different places. For instance, if you have one card that gives bonuses on gas and another that gives bonuses on dining out, make sure to use the correct one at the correct place.

Often, it is obvious when a particular merchant qualifies as a bonus category. But other times, it is not so obvious. That seems to be the issue here when you’re trying to use your Costco Anywhere Visa with AAA to receive the triple points on travel expenses.

To decipher what expenses qualify as a category, you have to understand how credit card companies approach the situation. Every merchant has what is known as a Merchant Category Code, or MCC, that roughly describes the line of business the company is in. Card companies decide to award extra reward points for certain MCCs. Sometimes they list in their terms and conditions which MCCs are eligible for bonus points, but often they don’t.

To see if you would receive extra points for a particular purchase, you need to know two things: First, what MCCs earn extra points with your card? Second, what is the MCC of the merchant at which you are using the card?

In the case of AAA and the Costco card, here is what we know: Citi’s Costco Anywhere Visa does not list the specific MCCs eligible for bonus points in its terms and conditions. It says only that you receive triple points for “eligible travel purchases worldwide, including airfare, hotels, car rentals, travel agencies, cruise lines and Costco Travel.”

That’s helpful but not decisive. The real question, now, is does AAA count as a “travel agency”? AAA offers a lot of services, including travel services, so it is a possibility.

For a more definitive answer, we need to examine AAA’s Merchant Category Code. If it is coded as a “travel agency,” you would likely receive the extra points. If it is not, you probably wouldn’t.

The best-known and most helpful online tool for discovering MCCs is the Visa Supplier Locator. It allows you to search merchants by name and location, and it gives you the MCC that Visa uses.

I looked up AAA offices in my area, and none is listed as a travel agency. Instead, they are listed as either an “association/organization” or as “business/professional services.”

Even though you are buying an airline ticket, the purchase is unlikely to count as a travel expense for category bonus purposes.

But now you know how to check if you can receive extra reward points for future expenditures.

See related: Simple strategies for increasing your card rewards, Video: How one woman travels the world on credit card points


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Published: January 31, 2017

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