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When getting Chinese visas this summer, TPG Contributor JT Genter missed out on a potentially large spending bonus, assuming that the visa fees would count as a travel expense. Here’s how you can avoid the same fate.
Before I could board my Air China flight to China this past July, I needed to acquire a Chinese tourist visa. Anyone who’s been through the process knows that the Chinese visa process isn’t easy — nor is it cheap, at $140 per visa. Thankfully, the Chinese government recently started issuing 10-year tourist visas, so you have the opportunity to get more than one use out of it.
In addition to completing our visa applications, my wife Katie and I were also submitting visa applications for four of her co-workers. I’m sure that we aren’t the only ones here glad to volunteer to get “free” spending by fronting reimbursable expenses!
After reviewing the spending bonuses of our open credit cards, we figured we should use our new Citi ThankYou Premier Card to charge the visa fees. The Premier Card earns triple points on travel spending and — I figured — surely tourist visas would count as a travel expense…
With six applications, $140 fees and triple points, I calculated our haul would be 2,520 ThankYou points from this purchase. With TPG valuing ThankYou points at 1.6 apiece, this was an easy way to get about $40 toward future travel on American Airlines.
Plus, the $840 charge would satisfy more than a quarter of the $3,000 required minimum spending. I was already salivating at all the points headed our way.
Well, the bounty was not quite as lucrative as I hoped. When the charge posted, I checked my statement and found that the transaction was coded as “Services MISC GOVERNMENT SERVICES,” which only earned one ThankYou point per dollar spent. Whoops!
Don’t make the same mistake I did: Before making a large purchase of any kind, check the vendor’s Merchant Category Code (MCC) through Visa’s Supplier Locator tool. Since MCC codes are standardized across the Visa, MasterCard and American Express platforms, you can use this tool no matter what type of card you plan to use.
You may be surprised by what you find. For instance, a breakfast-taco vendor up the street from my office is coded as “Charitable/Social Service Organizations,” since it turns out that it operates as a non-profit. While these tacos don’t count toward restaurant/dining spending bonus categories, they’re cheap and delicious enough to warrant giving up the extra point.
Once you have the merchant’s classification, check the fine print for your credit card’s spending bonus categories. For the Citi ThankYou Premier, TPG’s Jason Steele has detailed which expenses qualify. The Chase Sapphire Preferred also has a broad definition of qualifying travel expenses, which earn double Ultimate Reward points.
While my wife and I were trying to save a few bucks by handling the visa applications ourselves, we would have saved ourselves time and hassle and earned triple points by using Allied Passport & Visa to get our Chinese visas.
We checked and found Allied’s credit card processing is coded as “Travel Agencies, Tour Operators” — which both the Citi ThankYou Premier and Chase Sapphire treat as travel expenses. So, you can convert your non-bonus spending into travel bonus spending by using Allied to pay for your visa fees. As an added bonus, Allied will give you a $5 discount if you tell them that The Points Guy referred you.
Update: Due to a payments system update, Allied Passport & Visa may not be categorized properly by your card issuer. If you do not receive the correct number of points automatically, please send your issuer a secure message requesting the difference.
Bonus points are certainly not the only reason to use Allied. Like most countries’ embassies and consulates, the Chinese consulates are generally only open weekdays from 9am-5pm, and they require the visa application to be submitted in person.
We could take in the applications ourselves, as we live just a few hours away from one of the few Chinese consulates, and Katie had some flexibility to her schedule. She was able to spend a weekday taking the Megabus to and from Houston to submit our group’s applications — and then spend another weekday to repeat the process a week later in order to pick up the visas. For those who don’t have this flexibility, don’t live near a embassy or consulate or would rather not spend the time making one or more trips, Allied Passport & Visa will handle this process for you.
Working with an experienced team like Allied can save you more than just the hassle of getting to and from the consulate. Katie found the Chinese consulate workers to be quite strict, turning away four of the five people in line in front of her for not having the correct paperwork.
Check out Allied’s helpful, country-specific guides and sample applications — like this one for China — to make sure you get your application right the first time.
So, are passport visas eligible for travel-category bonus miles? Yes, but only if you use a service like Allied Passport & Visa to obtain your visa. If you are applying directly with the embassy or consulate, do not assume that you expect to get the bonus points/miles.
Have you ever missed out on a points bonus due to misidentifying a spending category?
The Points Guy Assessment: The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great pick for the beginner and the frequent traveler. The CSP has superb travel benefits, double points on certain purchases, and a 50,000 point sign up bonus. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year so this puts it as one of the less expensive cards, while still allowing you to earn one of the most valuable point currencies.
The Points Guy Assessment:
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great pick for the beginner and the frequent traveler. The CSP has superb travel benefits, double points on certain purchases, and a 50,000 point sign up bonus. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year so this puts it as one of the less expensive cards, while still allowing you to earn one of the most valuable point currencies.