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The Sam’s Club MasterCard: Earn Big Bucks Back for Buying in Bulk

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It seems like there’s a cash-back credit card out there for every type of shopper. For instance, there are great cards on the market for people who spend a lot on gas, dining and travel. But what if you spend a lot in all of those categories and want a card that will earn a good rewards rate across the board? The Sam’s Club MasterCard might be the right choice for you. If you shop frequently at this warehouse retailer and devote a lot of your income to gas, dining and travel purchases, this card’s unique 5-3-1 cash-back rewards program is definitely something to consider. Ready to hear more? Take a look at the details below.

Are you a Sam’s Club Discover customer? The Sam’s Club Discover card is being gradually phased out and will be replaced by the new Sam’s Club MasterCard shortly. If you have a Sam’s Club Discover card, you will receive information (if you haven’t already) about transitioning to the new card. Of course, you can always contact your card’s customer service center for more details about getting the Sam’s Club MasterCard.

At a glance
Annual fees annual fee is $0
Foreign transaction fee  3%
Rewards program Cash back. Earn 5% cash back on gas (up to $6,000 spent per year), 3% back on dining and travel, 1% on all other purchases. Cash back earnings are limited to $5,000 per year.
Signup bonus None
Verdict: If you spend a lot on gas, dining and travel and frequently shop at Sam’s Club, this card is worth considering
Good for:
  • Someone who spends a lot on gas, dining and travel
  • Someone who shops a lot at Sam’s Club and won’t mind redeeming rewards in-store (see below for details)
  • Someone who values the security of a chip-enabled card
Bad for:
  • Someone who wants more convenient and/or varied rewards redemption options
  • Someone who doesn’t shop at Sam’s Club
  • Someone who travels frequently

In this article:

Sam’s Club MasterCard: The basics
Where the Sam’s Club MasterCard shines
Sam’s Plus members have the opportunity to earn even more
Where the Sam’s Club MasterCard falls short
The Sam’s Club MasterCard versus the competition
Should you consider the Sam’s Club MasterCard?

Sam’s Club MasterCard: The basics

The cash-back earning structure of the Sam’s Club MasterCard is equal parts lucrative and simple. Plus, the card offers some other really good features:

  • Earn 5% cash back on purchases at gas stations in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, up to $6,000 spent per year. After you hit the $6,000 cap, you’ll earn 1% back at the pump. Sam’s Club fuel stations are eligible for the 5% rewards rate, but other warehouse club gas stations are excluded.
  • Earn 3% cash back on travel and dining purchases.
  • Earn 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Earn up to $5,000 in cash back per year
  • Cash back is paid in the form of a check every February (checks must be cashed at Sam’s Club stores)
  • Card comes chip-enabled
  • Extended warranty coverage
  • Identity theft resolution services
  • No annual fee (Sam’s Club membership required — $45 per year for standard membership)

Where the Sam’s Club MasterCard shines

The Sam’s Club MasterCard, which is slated to replace the Sam’s Club Discover card, hit the scene on June 23, 2014. Since then, it has made a big splash in the media. Here’s why:

High rewards rate on diverse categories – Earning 5% cash back on gas (up to $6,000 spent at the pump per year), 3% cash back on dining and travel, and 1% cash back on other purchases is a sky-high rewards rate that’s hard to come by. Even though you’re limited to $5,000 in cash back rewards earnings per year, you’re getting an above-average return on a diverse range of spending categories.

No annual fee – Most cards that carry a rewards rate as high as that of the Sam’s Club MasterCard charge an annual fee. But the only yearly cost you’ll need to pony up with this card is your Sam’s Club membership, which amounts to $45 per year. (Sam’s Club Plus is $100.) If you spend a lot on gas, dining and travel, that $45 membership could easily end up paying for itself.

Chip-enabled – The main reason the Sam’s Club MasterCard made waves when it was first released is because it comes chip-enabled. While this is a common feature in travel credit cards, the Wall Street Journal reports that the Sam’s Club MasterCard is the first mass retail credit card in the United States to include an EMV chip in every card. This is meant to provide a more secure shopping experience, and will come in handy when all U.S. credit cards migrate to EMV technology.

Sam’s Plus members have the opportunity to earn even more

If you’re a Sam’s Plus cardholder, you’re probably already familiar with some of the benefits of this premium membership. These include early-morning access to Sam’s Club stores, optical and pharmacy discounts, and other exclusive savings.

But as of June 12, 2014, there’s another great perk to add to the list. With the Cash Rewards program, Sam’s Plus members will earn $10 for every $500 in qualifying in-store purchases. Earnings are capped at $500 per year, and you don’t have to use any special method of payment to collect them.  But if you want to, you can combine your Cash Rewards with the cash back you’re racking up with your Sam’s Club MasterCard. This means that Sam’s Plus members who also have the Sam’s Club MasterCard could earn up to $5,500 in cash-back annually.

That’s a hefty reward for showing loyalty to Sam’s Club and its co-branded card!

Where the Sam’s Club MasterCard falls short

Although the Sam’s Club MasterCard has some serious advantages, there are definitely drawbacks to consider. For example:

Inconvenient redemption options – Undoubtedly, the main downfall of the Sam’s Club MasterCard is how rewards are redeemed. Unlike most other cash-back cards, you can’t log in to your account and redeem for a statement credit or direct deposit into your bank account. With the Sam’s Club MasterCard, your cash-back is mailed to you in the form of a check. But the catch is that you can only cash this check at a Sam’s Club Store. Plus, the rewards check only comes once per year; this means that you don’t have the flexibility to redeem your rewards whenever you please.

What’s more, there are certain restrictions surrounding the redemption of your cash-back check. For instance:

  • Your account must be in good standing to cash your rewards check; this generally means that you’re not delinquent on your payments.
  • You can’t redeem rewards of less than $5.
  • You can’t redeem your rewards check if you’re not a Sam’s Club member at the time the check is issued.
  • You can’t redeem your rewards check if you cancel your Sam’s Club MasterCard account before the check is issued.
  • Rewards checks expire after 180 days of their issue date. If you don’t cash your check within this timeframe, your rewards expire.

If you can meet these requirements and don’t mind cashing your annual check in-store every year, you might not find any of this problematic. But if you’re interested in a card with more convenient and frequent redemption options, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Cash-back earning isn’t unlimited — $5,000 is a very high cash-back earning limit, but it is a limit nonetheless. If you’re a very big spender and don’t like the idea of caps on the rewards you’re earning, another card might be a better option.

Small signup bonus – It’s typical for cash-back cards to offer new customers a $100 signup bonus for spending $500 in the first three months of opening their accounts. The Sam’s Club MasterCard provides a much smaller signup bonus of only $20, and you must spend at least $50 on SamsClub.com on the same day you’ve opened your account in order to get it. This is probably not a deal breaker, but it’s worth mentioning.

The Sam’s Club MasterCard versus the competition

If you’re a Sam’s Club junkie and spend a lot on gas, dining and travel, the Sam’s Club MasterCard might be a no-brainer. But if you find some of the card’s drawbacks a turnoff, you may be wondering if there are similar cards on the market that would fit your needs better. Good news! The Nerds have a few suggestions:

If you want a cash-back card with convenient redemption options: Chase Freedom®

The Chase Freedom® is one of the Nerds’ favorite cash-back cards for a reason: You’ll earn 5% cash back in quarterly rotating bonus categories (up to $1,500 in combined purchases per quarter) and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. Since the Chase Freedom® has historically featured gas as a 5% category for two out of four quarters per year, you’re getting an annual average cash-back rate of 3% at the pump.

Plus, it usually features restaurants as a 5% category at least once per year, which means you’re getting an annual average cash-back rate of 2% on dining out. And, of course, you’ll enjoy 5% back at other popular retailers (such as Starbucks, Lowes and Kohls in 2014) throughout the year. This is a pretty high rewards rate for a card with an annual fee of $0.

But where the Chase Freedom® really bests the Sam’s Club MasterCard is in how cash-back is redeemed. You can use the rewards you earn with the Chase Freedom® for gift cards, at Amazon, or for a statement credit or direct deposit. This provides a lot more options than the Sam’s Club MasterCard, so it’s something to consider. Finally, the Chase Freedom® also provides a decent signup bonus: Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. You might be wondering what else you could ask for in a cash-back card, but actually there’s more – see our Nerd note below.

If you want unlimited rewards on gas and dining: Wells Fargo Propel 365 American Express® Card

If you spend a lot on gas and dining and don’t like limits on the rewards you can earn, the Wells Fargo Propel 365 American Express® Card is a card worth considering. With it, you’ll earn 3 points per dollar spent on gas, 2 points per dollar spent on dining out, and 1 point per dollar spend on all other purchases. There’s no limit to the points you can earn, and each point is worth $.01 apiece. Points can be redeemed for travel, gift cards, merchandise or cash back through the Wells Fargo Rewards site, which is much more varied than the single redemption option you get with the Sam’s Club MasterCard.

The Wells Fargo Propel 365 American Express® Card’s $0 for the first year, then $45. But this brings it in line with the annual cost of the Sam’s Club MasterCard, since you have to have a Sam’s Club membership to get the card.

If you’re a jet setter who spends a lot on dining and travel: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

If you like to travel and don’t spend a lot on gas, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is probably a better fit than the Sam’s Club MasterCard. As far as rewards go, Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has great earning power: Every time you use the card, you’ll be getting 2 points per dollar spent on dining in restaurants and travel and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Generally, Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card points are worth one cent apiece.

However, they’re worth 25% more when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, which drives the value of each point up to 1.25 cents. You can redeem credit card points for cash back, gift cards, travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal or by transferring them at a 1:1 ratio to participating frequent traveler programs.

These travel redemption options are what makes the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card a better choice than the Sam’s Club MasterCard for globetrotters. Also, if your plans include an international trip, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card comes with an EMV chip and charges no foreign transaction fee. Plus, the card offers a stellar signup bonus: You’ll Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. However, it does carry an $0 for the first year, then $95.

Nerd note: If you’re looking for primo rewards on gas, dining and travel, but don’t shop at Sam’s Club enough to make the Sam’s Club MasterCard worthwhile, consider getting both the Chase Freedom® and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. You can use each card wherever you’ll get the highest rewards rate, then, if you want to, transfer the rewards you’ve earned with the Chase Freedom® to your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card account. This strategy will give you a wide variety of high-value redemption options and allow you to earn big rewards for all different types of spending.

Should you consider the Sam’s Club MasterCard?

The Sam’s Club MasterCard is ideal for people who fit a specific profile: big spenders on gas, dining and travel and loyal Sam’s Club shoppers. If you fit this description, you’ll get a lot out of the card’s rewards earning structure and won’t mind redeeming your cash back at your favorite warehouse retailer. In this case, the Sam’s Club MasterCard is definitely worth serious consideration. Otherwise, the Sam’s Club MasterCard should be on your radar, but don’t rush to apply without checking out other options. There might be something else out there that fits your spending and lifestyle just a little bit better.