How Do Mobile Wallets Code for Credit Card Bonus Categories?

Jul 11, 2019

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Reader Questions are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.

Before you make a large purchase, it’s important to think about how that transaction will code on your credit card, so you can swipe the one with the highest bonus multiplier. Some cards — like the Chase Sapphire Reserve — are incredibly generous with how they define their bonus categories, while others — like The Platinum Card® from American Express — use much more limited definitions. TPG reader Alexandra wants to know how mobile wallets such as Apple Pay affect the way purchases code …

Do cards still code properly for bonus points when using Apple Pay as opposed to the physical card? My Ink earns 5x points on office supplies, but will it still do so if I make the purchase through Apple Pay?

TPG READER ALEXANDRA

Mobile wallets are increasing in popularity in the US and around the world. If you’ve ever traveled to China, for example, you’ll find that mobile apps WeChat and AliPay have made cash obsolete in most of the country. Adoption has been much slower in the US, but mobile wallets provide a number of benefits to both merchants and customers. Not only is it more convenient to scan or tap your phone than it is to dig out a credit card in an overstuffed purse or wallet, but mobile payments are typically much more secure. Hackers can’t steal your card number as easily if you never swipe it in the physical terminal, and this lower rate of fraud can mean higher margins for retailers.

And fortunately for Alexandra, the short answer to her question is that mobile wallets have absolutely no bearing on how a purchase codes.

Whether or not you earn bonus points is dependent on the Merchant Category Code (MCC), which is set by individual stores to identify themselves as restaurants, hotels, etc. Using a mobile wallet doesn’t affect the MCC that gets reported with your transaction and therefore doesn’t have any bearing on your bonus multiplier.

As an example, TPG Senior Editor Nick Ewen just spent four days in London, and he loved using Apple Pay for riding the Underground. All forms of London transportation accept contactless payment options like mobile wallets, and Transport for London even encourages this by capping daily fares at just £7 when paying in this fashion and traveling in Zones 1-2. (For comparison’s sake, a single, one-way ticket in Zone 1 bought at a ticket machine using cash or a credit card is a whopping £4.90!)

Since his Chase Sapphire Reserve was hooked up to Apple Pay, all of his fares posted as travel purchases, thus earning 3x Ultimate Rewards points.

However, some credit cards offer bonus points specifically tied to the use of mobile wallets. The upcoming Apple Card will earn 1% cash back when you use the physical card and 2% back on all purchases made with Apple Pay. Another great example is the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card which earns 3x points on mobile wallet purchases. And we’ve even seen limited-time offers for paying with mobile wallets, like this Amex Offer from April or an earlier one from Chase. The information for the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

While Alexandra can use Apple Pay without worrying about how that will affect her bonus points, there is one small problem. In this question, she asked about using a Chase business card (like the Ink Business Cash Credit Card) to earn 5% cash back  (5x points) at office supply stores (on the first $25,000 in combined purchases each account anniversary year), but these cards are not compatible with Apple Pay. Nearly every personal Chase credit and debit card is — including cobranded products like the Southwest or United cards — but Chase has not yet made its lineup of Ink cards compatible with Apple Pay. If Alexandra wants to earn her 5x bonus points, she would need to use the physical card.

Bottom Line

Mobile wallets can be an incredibly convenient option for consumers, and as long as your card is compatible, you can use them freely without worrying about your purchase coding correctly. Whether or not you earn bonus points is dependent on the Merchant Category Code (MCC) set by each individual store, not choosing to use a mobile payment option rather than a physical card.

Thanks for the question, Alexandra, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured image by Westend61 / Getty Images

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