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What are the Best MasterCard Rewards Programs?

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First, we’ll discuss our favorite MasterCard credit cards, and then we’ll dive into details about MasterCard Reward Programs.

Best MasterCard For Balance Transfers – Citi Simplicity® Card

No late payment fees, and a very generous introductory 0% APR.

Best MasterCard For Bad Credit & Building Credit – Capital One® Secured MasterCard®

The best option for people with no credit, or bad credit, is a secured credit card. By posting a deposit of as low as $49-$200, you can get a credit line and repair your credit. In time, with a solid payment history, you can start to use your improved credit history to negotiate for a non-secured credit card.

The Capital One® Secured MasterCard® is a great option.

Facts About MasterCard Rewards Programs

If you have excellent credit and you’re looking for the perfect credit card, you should automatically think rewards. Depending on your spending habits, you can get airline miles, cash back, or discounts on shopping. But choosing the right rewards card is confusing, not least because MasterCard’s rewards and those offered by individual bank are completely different.

Who gives me my rewards?

Okay, first, a clarification: MasterCard is a network, along with Visa, American Express and Discover. They’re the ones that handle the processing of your credit card: whenever you swipe your plastic, the network sends the transaction along to the bank, checks your account to make sure you have enough money, and makes sure the merchant gets paid.

They’re not the ones that actually issue your credit card – that’s your bank’s job. The bank determines what rewards rate you get and how much interest you pay, and also handles logistical issues like ATMs and customer service. If you get 1% rewards on a card, it’s because Bank of America (or Chase, or PNC…) says so.

If my bank decides my rewards rate, why are they called MasterCard Rewards?

MasterCard has different levels of cards: there are your standard non-rewards debit cards, which don’t make much money either for you or for MasterCard, all the way up to premium credit cards, which are incredibly lucrative for MasterCard and which they try to get you to use by offering a number of perks beyond your standard 1% cash back.

(For a detailed explanation of why MasterCard likes it when you pay with a rewards card, and more background on the Visa-MasterCard processing network duopoly, check out our post explaining the Durbin Amendment to the Dodd-Frank bill of 2009).

MasterCard has six rewards levels: Standard, Gold, Platinum, World, Black, and World Elite. Each level offers better protections, discounts, and perks like concierge services. While your issuing bank determines how many reward points or miles you earn with one purchase, MasterCard’s perks are benefits that don’t depend on how much money you put on the card.

All of the cards offer access to the MasterCard MarketPlace, which has discounts on plane tickets, dining, shopping and the like, and give pretty decent rewards redemption rates.

Standard MasterCard: Global Service and MasterTravel

The standard MasterCard is probably best for those with limited or bad credit, and generally don’t offer much in terms of rewards. These cards offer the bare minimum: they provide accidental death and dismemberment insurance, and will (for a fee) give you emergency cash advances, or a new card to replace a lost or stolen one.

Gold MasterCard: MasterRental and MasterAssist

Each benefit level builds on the last, so for the sake of brevity, we’ll just say once that this card has everything a lower-level card has, and more. The Gold MasterCard’s additional benefits include rental insurance, covering physical damage or theft of an auto rental.

It also offers a travel assistance service, called MasterAssist, providing a 24/7/365 hotline for resources on emergency medical and legal help; assistance in locating lost or stolen luggage, tickets or documents; and will arrange to have someone fly to your bedside if you’re hospitalized abroad. Basically, it’s a good resource for everything you hope you’ll never need while traveling. However, they won’t pay for any of the benefits listed above, they’ll just help you with the logistics.

Platinum MasterCard: MasterAssist Plus and Concierge Service

MasterAssist Plus pays for the services that the regular MasterAssist simply helps to arrange: they’ll cover medical expenses, emergency family travel, and evacuation up to $25,000. They’ll negotiate payment with the provider directly, so you won’t need to deal with it.

The concierge service points you to services you actually want to use, rather than ones you hope you’ll never need: entertainment, hotel and dinner reservations, plane tickets, translation and other executive services, and shopping information. They’ll help you to find and book travel experiences.

World MasterCard: Warranty Protection, Purchase Assurance, Price Protection, Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, and Accident/Baggage Insurance

You may notice the new benefit list is long…really long. That’s because the World MasterCard steps up its benefits substantially, tailoring them to, well, world travelers. The non-travel-related protections will extend a manufacturer’s warranty by a year, reimburse goods that are stolen or damaged within 90 days of purchase, and, if you find a lower price for something you bought within 60 days, they’ll refund the price difference.

The travel benefits are, like the Platinum MasterCard, extensions on previously existing benefits. If your trip is cancelled or delayed for a covered reason (these include severe illness of you or a family member, an airline dissolving, and re-emergence of a pre-existing condition, though you should read the terms carefully), the network will refund whatever the airline doesn’t, up to $1,500. You’re also insured against injuries sustained while traveling, and can be compensated up to $300 if your luggage is delayed.

MasterCard Black: Personal Assistant and Priority Pass Lounge Access

The MasterCard Black’s rewards are pretty helpful: a “personal assistant” that serves as a concierge on steroids. It goes well beyond a typical concierge service, and can provide help in locating child and pet care (including arranging pick-up and drop-off from school), serves as a personal shopper, and can help in locating rare gifts. The service will answer “virtually any request that money and ethics can buy,” whatever that means.

The Black also offers access to over 450 VIP airport lounges in more than 75 countries through the Priority Pass program, regardless of what airline you’re flying, what kind of ticket you purchase, or if you have a frequent flyer membership. You can get free refreshments, TV and newspapers; some lounges also offer phones, fax machines, Internet and conference rooms.

World Elite MasterCard: Help in getting expensive things

The benefits of the World Elite MasterCard are notoriously difficult to find, except for the promotional offers that the website gives. The World Elite is kind of like the American Express Centurion: a really, really high-end premium rewards credit card, albeit one that’s slightly easier to get than AmEx’s. It’s got the same level of prestige, and offers services related to buying very nice things: discounts on private jets, help in booking a table at Michelin-rated restaurants, and entertainment offers from Mamma Mia to playoff hockey tickets.

MasterCard rewards: a comparison

It’s difficult to compare MasterCard’s rewards to Visa’s rewards, since both reward programs are tiered, and even more difficult to make a comparison to American Express or Discover since both of those networks require swallowing less-than-universal coverage.

Still, Visa tends to offer better terms for more cards. While the Visa Signature’s perks don’t compare to the World Elite MasterCard, the comparison isn’t necessarily apples to apples. The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card comes with Visa Signature benefits and an annual fee of $0 intro for first year; $59 after that; the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card from MasterCard has an annual fee of $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95, with a lower rewards rate but a host of bonuses.

We prefer Visa’s rewards over MasterCard’s simply because they give more rewards in their lower-level cards, while MasterCard offers very little on standard, gold and platinum, and steps up their game only for the World, World Elite and Black. Check out our comprehensive comparison of Visa vs. MasterCard rewards for more information.