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Believe it or not, I spend a lot of time at dinner parties helping people get their wallets in shape. While people are generally pretty savvy with their personal credit cards, I’m always amazed at how many business owners are completely bungling their points earning strategies. As a small business owner myself, I’ve leveraged business credit cards for years to help me separate finances and also reap valuable rewards.
There are a lot of business card options out there, but the gold standard, in my opinion are the Ink Bold and Plus cards. Apart from offering unparalleled lucrative 5X category spending bonuses at office supply stores and on telecommunications, many other benefits often get overlooked. Beyond the lucrative 50,000 point sign-up bonuses (and waived $95 annual fees for the first year) there are a lot of reasons I keep these cards in my wallet:
1. Transfer partners: Like the Sapphire Preferred, the Ink Bold is one of Chase’s premium travel credit card products and lets you transfer the Ultimate Rewards points you earn to the program’s travel transfer partners including: British Airways, Korean Air, Southwest, United, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Priority Club and Amtrak. If you have one of the starter cards in Chase’s portfolio like the Freedom or Sapphire, which also accrue Ultimate Rewards points but which cannot be transferred to partners, and if you carry the Ink Bold or Plus (or Sapphire Preferred) you can combine the points from your accounts and then transfer them, so carrying the Ink Bold opens up a lot more travel possibilities. You can learn about my ranking of Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partners here.
2. No foreign transaction fees: One of my biggest credit card pet peeves is the foreign transaction fee most cards charge on purchases made outside the US. This can range up to 3%, taking a big chunk out of your budget. It shocks me how many credit cards that are specifically geared towards travelers charge foreign transaction fees, but Chase leads the pack with its array of credit cards that waive this pesky pecuniary concern and let you charge away while getting away.
3. Spend Flexibility: The Ink Bold is a charge card, not a credit card, which means there is no set monthly limit, which can give you the spending power you need when you need it the most. However, you must pay it off in full each statement period or incur very high interest and fees. That’s not an issue for me, so I like having the additional spending power in case I need to make a big charge that might otherwise overshadow the credit limit on another card – you know, in case I got carried away at the Prada outlet outside Florence. Note: Chase probably won’t let you buy a private jet, so if you have any extraordinary charges you can call and see if you can either borrow credit from other Chase lines or get an authorization for a big charge.
The Ink Plus is a credit card, meaning you can pay the balance over time, albeit with interest fees. While I pay my bills off every month, sometimes small business cash flow can be crimped (that customer who forgot to send that huge check in the mail before your credit card bill was due), so it’s good to have the option of using a credit card and avoiding the monstrous fees of paying a charge card late.
Added bonus: Since it is a business card, all purchases sit on your business credit line, which means it won’t affect your personal credit utilization (and thus score) since that is the #1 factor of your FICO score.
4. Category spending bonuses: Apart from the 5X bonus on office supply stores and telecommunications, both the Ink Bold and Ink Plus also earn 2 points per $1 at gas stations and for hotel expenses – but only when purchased directly with the hotel. Booking on Orbitz or other outside websites (or travel agents) won’t get you the points. As for gas, Chase only requires that a merchant has a code for those categories – which is less restrictive than Amex’s requirement for the Premier Rewards card’s 2x gas station bonus which requires the gas to be purchased at a standalone gas station – so as long as the merchant at which you purchase the gas is coded as a gas station, you should receive 2x points with the Chase cards.
5. Portal bonuses: When you log into the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal using your Ink Bold or Ink Plus account, you’ll find not only bonuses at various merchants where you can earn multiple points per dollar, but you’ll also earn 2X points per $1 on airfare you purchase through portals like Travelocity and Expedia, bringing their earning potential into line with that of the Sapphire Preferred.
6. Purchase protection: (UPDATE – As of June 2013, Ink cards are now Visa Business Cards and are no longer World MasterCards so these benefits do not apply.) Because the Ink Bold is a World Mastercard, it offers cardholders four point purchase protection including extended warranties and purchase protection of up to $3,000 per claim and $20,000 per 12-month period on gifts, internet purchases, and overseas purchases for up to 90 days from date of purchase. Mastercard will repair, replace or reimburse you for the damaged or stolen item.
7. Cash-back Flexibility: I’ve met many small business owners who simply want to earn cash-back on their spend. The beauty of the Ink Cards is that in addition to being able to transfer your points to incredibly valuable transfer partners, you can also use your points for statement credits at the rate of 1 point = 1 cent. So think about it- the 5 points per dollar you spend on office supplies and telecommunications could actually translate into 5% cash back to your business’ bottom line. To do this, login to Ultimaterewards.com -> Use Points -> Pay Yourself Back. That 50,000 point sign-up bonus = $500 in statement credits.
8. Lounge Club Membership: Ink cardholders get access to The Lounge Club, which is a network of over 300 lounges internationally. Each year you get two free passes and after that it is $27 per visit. This benefit is good for all Ink cardholders, including additional cardholders (which are free to add). There are currently 18 US airports with Lounge Clubs, including 4 at LAX: the T2 Air France Business Class Lounge, Terminal 6 Alaska Airlines Boardroom and Tom Bradley Relax and Skyteam/KAL lounges. You will be mailed an invitation code once you become a new cardmember and link to signup. Check out this post for more details.
9. Jot App for Expense Management: I hate keeping track of business receipts, which becomes problematic with expense reports and correctly keeping track of writeoffs (in other words my accountant hates me). The free Jot app allows you to instantly tag expenses to different projects and even snap pictures so you can exactly reconcile them later. You can manage all of your employee card accounts instantly and while it has some of the same functionality of the general Chase app, it allows you to dig further and get information you need quicker. Overall, it saves time and to me, time is money!
10. Ink Insider Benefits: The Chase Ink team has lined up exclusive benefits with Google, Avis and Expedia for cardholders. You can get $150 in free Google Adwords advertising and access to Google webinars to help build your online business via advertising. The Avis benefit is pretty solid- you get a $15 coupon off of a 3 day rental just for registering and then free AvisFirst, upgrades, GPS discounts and a free rental day after every 7 rentals. Now with all things, you need to comparison shop (rentals using this program may be more expensive than Priceline or other eligible discounts).
All these are reasons the Ink Bold is integral to my points-earning strategy and why it will be in my wallet for a long time to come.