ScoreCard Points: Why They’re Rarely Worth the Hassle

Tim Chen, Paul SoucyFebruary 5, 2021
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ScoreCard is a rewards program tied to credit or debit cards from small banks and credit unions. ScoreCard allows those institutions to offer rewards to their customers without having to manage a program themselves.

Those rewards, however, are ... not very rewarding.

How ScoreCard Rewards works

Institutions that offer ScoreCard rewards can choose how they want the program to work. They can offer it on all their payment cards or only on certain ones. Unlike a lot of rewards programs, this one may apply on debit cards — but only if those transactions are processed as "credit" at the point of sale.

In many cases, you earn 1 point per dollar spent. But some institutions are even tighter in how they parcel out points. You might get 1 point per $2, $3 or even $5 spent. There are also bonus rewards available through "ScoreMore": If you use your linked card at participating retailers, you might earn rewards of "2X, 3X, 4X & MORE," according to a 2017 ScoreCard brochure. That brochure said ScoreMore retailers have included "Macy's, JC Penney, Walmart.com and more."

The points you earn can be redeemed for travel or merchandise.

'Good' option: Airline tickets

If you want to use your points for travel, you might be in luck. Might. You can redeem points for airline tickets anywhere in the world, but you have to book through ScoreCard, whose prices can be higher than those available directly through airlines or with online travel agencies.

ScoreCard doesn't maintain a published, up-to-date awards chart for travel redemptions. Current redemption values for specific flights are available only by logging in to your ScoreCard account online.

In general, though, a ticket costs a set number of points depending on the itinerary. A ticket for travel within the contiguous U.S. might cost 27,500 points, while a trip to Hawaii might cost 60,000, and a ticket from the U.S. to Asia, 115,000. The pricing structure also takes into account how far in advance you book, whether the trip involves a Saturday night stay and other factors. So depending on the cash price of the ticket you want to buy, it's possible to get a value of 1 cent per point — matching the value of points in some larger rewards programs — or even better.

Keep in mind, though, that the rate at which you earn points depends on your bank's or credit union's program. The top ongoing rewards rate is just 1 point per dollar, with some extra points available through ScoreMore. If that's your earning rate and you're able to redeem at a value of 1 cent per point, then your effective rewards rate is 1%. If your institution is gives you 1 point for every $3 spent, that same redemption value means the effective rewards rate is 0.33%. Many, many credit cards pay you a higher rate.

You can also redeem for hotel stays, car rentals or cruises. Booking fees may apply to travel redemptions, especially if you need to book your ticket by phone.

Bad option: Merchandise

Redeeming points for merchandise through ScoreCard is almost always a bad deal. You can browse available products at the ScoreCard website, but the latest prices aren't visible unless you're logged in.

In 2011, back when prices were available to the general public, NerdWallet reviewed the redemption values of the 10 most popular items in the ScoreCard catalog, compared them with prices elsewhere online, and calculated the point value. The results are in the chart below, and they're not good — almost always less than a penny per point and sometimes less than half a cent apiece. A spot-check of redemption amounts in more recent brochures found similar values when compared with online prices.

ScoreCard point cost

Price elsewhere

Value per point

1. iTunes Gift Card

3,000

$25

0.83 cents

2. Fandango – Two Movie Tickets

2,500

About $22, depending on where you live

0.88 cents

3. Zippo Classic Wine Bottle Cap

1,300

$9.44 on Opentip

0.73 cents

4. Hoover Cordless Hand Vacuum

5,000

$29.00 on Amazon

0.60 cents

5. Colby 19″ LCD HDTV

22,500

$150.95 on Amazon

0.67 cents

6. Westinghouse Outlet Grounded Wall Adapter

1,300

$6.38 on Amazon

0.49 cents

7. Black & Decker Toaster Oven

6,900

$29.99 on Amazon

0.43 cents

8. Swift Stick Vacuum

5,000

$22.92 on Amazon

0.46 cents

9. Colby 8GB MP3 Player

6,900

$46.95 on Amazon

0.68 cents

10. 12 Mile 2 Way Radio

4,300

$19.99 on Amazon

0.46 cents

Best option: A different card

As an alternative to the cat-and-mouse of ScoreCard points, consider a card that just gives you cash back. Nothing's easier to redeem than the world's reserve currency. Ask your bank or credit union if they have non-ScoreCard options, or see our list of the best cash back credit cards. Some of our cash back favorites include:

  • Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer: Earn 2% cash back on all purchases — 1% when you buy something and 1% when you pay it off.

  • Chase Freedom Flex℠: Earn 5% cash back in bonus categories that you activate (on up to $1,500 spent per quarter); 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase; 3% on dining and at drugstores, and 1% everywhere else. Newcomers get this bonus offer: Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.

  • Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card: Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases. This card also has a bonus offer: One-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening.

All of these cards charge no annual fee.

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