So you took your travel credit card abroad, made bonus-eligible purchases, like hotel stays and train tickets, and now you’re wondering why you didn’t get extra rewards. You won’t always earn bonus rewards abroad, but there are a few cards that offer solid rewards for purchases made outside the U.S.
How bonus categories work
Let’s say your credit card gives 2 points per $1 spent on travel and 1 point per $1 spent elsewhere. If you book a night at the Marriott for $100, you’ll get 200 points. But who decides that Marriott is a hotel? For that matter, who decides that hotels count as travel?
When a merchant starts accepting Visa or MasterCard, it’s assigned a merchant categorization code (MCC), which tells you whether the business classifies itself as a department store, hotel, travel agency or any other category. MCCs are used by payment companies to calculate interchange fees, by the IRS to set reporting standards, and — most important for our purposes — by banks to determine reward eligibility.
A credit card’s issuing bank will group certain MCCs together to form a rewards category — for example, airlines, car rental agencies and online travel agents might fall under travel — and give bonus rewards through any merchant with a matching MCC.
MCCs are sometimes counterintuitive. Uber, for example, isn’t a taxi — it’s a “ground transportation service.” Costco is listed as a “wholesale store” rather than a department store.
So why didn’t you earn those extra rewards when you spent on a bonus category? Though MCCs are used worldwide, it’s not impossible for international merchants to be categorized differently.
To avoid surprises, try booking through a U.S.-based agency like Hotels.com or Orbitz, and find their merchant categorization codes using Visa’s lookup tool.