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The business card market is extremely lucrative- for both credit card companies and business owners alike. Businesses generally spend a lot more money than the average consumer, so the potential for credit card companies to make money off the transactions (since they charge merchants fees for credit card purchases) and interest on carried balances is higher- and the same goes for business owners who can rake in huge points paydays- from not only sign-up bonuses, but spend bonus categories. Note: Most issuers will let you get a business credit card even if you don’t have an established LLC- you can use your own social security number and apply as a sole proprietorship. As for American Express, OPEN cards are are exclusively for business owners though that category also covers sole proprietors.
In my opinion, the three best transferable points programs are American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest. Each program has at least one business card and in my opinion, the Chase Ink Bold, American Express Business Gold Rewards and the Starwood Business American Express are the most lucrative cards for those looking to maximize points.
I personally use all three on a daily basis, so I feel comfortable comparing their advantages and disadvantages. There are a ton of other business card products out there that I’ll compare in future posts, but for the sake of highlighting my favorites, I’ll start with these three and evaluate them based on the following metrics and assign award each a 1,2 or 3 score for each and the card with the most points “wins”: Sign-up bonus, Category spend bonuses, Transfer partners, Other redemption options, Benefits, Fees.
Amex Business Rewards Gold: Update: This offer expired on October 29, 2013. View the current offer for the Business Gold Rewards card.
50,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $5,000 in the first three months of Card membership. Restrictions: Bonus offer not available to applicants who have had this product or any other Business Gold, Green, or Platinum®Card account within the last 12 months. Score: 2
Chase Ink Bold: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months from account opening. Restrictions: You can’t get the bonus if you’ve had the same card in the past, but you can get it for both versions of the product: Ink Bold with Ultimate Rewards (Charge Card) and the Ink Plus (Credit card) for a maximum haul of 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points. Score: 3
Starwood Business Amex: Once a year Amex runs a 30,000 point offer, but that just ended in September. The best offer now is 25,000 points: 10,000 after first purchase and 15,000 after $5,000 spend in the first 6 months.
Summary: The Ink Bold wins because the potential max bonus is higher (100,000 for both cards) and I personally think Ultimate Rewards points are more valuable than Membership Rewards points. I think they are comparable to Starwood points, but the Starwood bonus is 1/2 as lucrative. As far as second place, the Business Gold Rewards wins out because the bonus is higher than Starwood Amex (even though Starwood points are more valuable, I don’t think they are twice as valuable as Membership Rewards).
Category Spend Bonuses
Amex Business Rewards Gold: 3x points on airfare, 2x points on purchases in the U.S. for advertising in select media, gasoline at U.S. stand-alone gas stations, and shipping and 1x points on other purchases. Restrictions: Points are earned only on eligible purchases. Bonus points limitations apply. Score: 2
Chase Ink Bold: 5 points per dollar spent on office supplies/cell phone/internet/landline/TV, 2 points per dollar on gas stations and hotels and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Restrictions: $50,000 max spent in both 5x and 2x categories Score: 3
Starwood Business Amex: 1 Starpoint for every dollar of eligible purchases. Receive up to 5 Starpoints for every dollar of eligible purchases charged directly with Starwood Hotels & Resorts – that’s 2 Starpoints per dollar spent on the Card in addition to the Starpoints you get as a Starwood Preferred Guest member. Score: 1
Summary: The 5x Ink Bold categories are extremely lucrative, especially since you can purchase gift cards at office supply stores and essentially get 5 points per dollar on everything you spend (up to the $50,000 bonus limit). The Business Gold Rewards is a clear second due to the 3/2 categories and Starwood trails since it only awards bonuses on Starwood spend.
Amex Business Rewards Gold: Airlines: Air Canada Aeroplan, Singapore, All Nippon Airlines, British Airways (current 40% bonus), Iberia, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Delta, Air France/KLM Flying Blue, Alitalia, Aeromexico, Virgin America (2:1), Virgin Atlantic, El Al (20:1), Frontier, JetBlue, Hawaiian. Hotels: Starwood (3:1 ratio), Hilton (1:1.5), Best Western, Jumeirah (23:1), Choice Score: 1
Chase Ink Bold: Airlines: United, British Airways, Korean, Southwest Hotels: Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Priority Club. Other: Amtrak Score: 2
Starwood Business Amex: Aeroplan, Air Berlin, Air China, Air New Zealand (65:1), Alaska, Alitalia, ANA, American, Asia Miles, Asiana, British Airways, Delta, Emirates, Flying Blue, Hawaiian, JAL, King Club, LAN (1:1), Miles and More, Qatar, Saudi Arabian, Singapore, Thai, US Airways, United (2:1), Virgin Atlantic Score: 3
Summary: Starwood Preferred Guest gives a 25% bonus for every 20,000 points transferred and has a lot of strong partners like American and Alaska. Chase comes in second because United and Hyatt are great values at instant 1:1 ratios. Membership Rewards does run transfer bonuses, like the current British Airways 40%, but they are fickle and the have become more and more scarce lately for me to raise their score solely based on the possibility of future bonuses.
Amex Business Rewards Gold: Pay With Points allows travel to be purchased at 1 cent per point through Amex Travel. Gift cards range in value from .5 cents per point for Amex gift cards to 1 cent per point for popular retailers. Score: 1
Chase Ink Bold: Points are worth 1.25 cents each when purchasing travel directly through Ultimate Rewards. 1 cent per point for cash back or shopping via Amazon.com or with gift cards. Score: 2
Starwood Business Amex: Points can be redeemed for Starwood hotels starting at 2,000 points a night and the fifth night is always free on award redemptions. You can also leverage Starpoints for great value using Cash & Points. SPG Flights also allows points to be used to purchase airfare at about 1 cent per point. Score: 3
Summary: Redeeming Starwood points for Starwood hotels can be a tremendous value, especially with Cash & Points. Chase has a solid 1-1.25 cents per point redemption value in their “alternate” redemption methods and Membership Rewards brings up the rear with only .5 cents per point for the nearest cash back equivalent- Amex Gift cards.
Amex Business Rewards Gold: Amex OPEN Savings gives automatic discounts at certain vendors: like 3% off Hyatt, 5% off Courtyard by Marriott and up to 10% off at Office Max. 90 days of purchase protection and extended warranties. Score: 2
Chase Ink Bold: Lounge Club membership (2 free visits) Score: 1
Starwood Business Amex: Starwood Gold Status with $30,000 in spend, 2 stays/5 nights towards SPG elite status, AMEX Open Savings, Roadside assistance, Car rental loss and damage coverage, extended warranty, purchase protection and travel accident insurance. Score: 3
Summary: American Express has been in the business card business longer and it shows- there are a lot more built-in benefits like the OPEN Savings program and travel insurance benefits. The Starwood card has those same benefits plus the Starwood elite perks, so it wins the top spot.
Amex Business Rewards Gold: $175 annual fee, waived the first year. 2.7% foreign transaction fees. $0.0006 per point fee when transferring points to US airline transfer partners. Score: 1
Chase Ink Bold: $95 annual fee, waived the first year. No foreign transaction fees. No fee when transferring points to partners. Score: 3
Starwood Business Amex: $65 annual fee, waived the first year. 2.7% foreign transaction fee. No fee when transferring to partners. Score: 2
Summary: Ink Bold wins for its modest annual fee and no foreign transaction or transfer fees. Starwood beats the Business Gold Rewards due to the much cheaper annual fee and no transfer fees.
Chase Ink Bold: 14
Starwood Business Amex: 13
Amex Business Rewards Gold: 9
Do you agree with these results? If not, how would you have changed around the rankings?